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Annette Giesecke

“The Afterlife of Paradise: Near Eastern Origins of the Ancient Roman Garden”

Annette Giesecke

University of Delaware, Garden and Landscape Studies Fellow

Mention of ancient Roman gardens conjures images of lavish estates outfitted with sprawling gardens containing specimen plantings from around the world, aviaries and fishponds, pergolas for outdoor dining, and sculpture-lined swimming pools such as those described by the younger Pliny in his letters or evidenced by the remains of Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli. This project examines the origins of such gardens. On the basis of evidence found in texts, art, architecture, and the remains of designed landscapes, Giesecke argues that the form and meanings of these gardens were heavily influenced by the “paradises” of Persia and other kingdoms of the ancient Near East, which had a long history of royal and aristocratic pleasure gardens. The project underscores deep ideological links between East and West that are often obscured by the cultural biases of later interpreters.

Annette Giesecke is a specialist in the history, meaning, and representation in literature and the arts of ancient Greek and Roman gardens and designed landscapes. Her work extends to the influence of Near Eastern garden traditions on those of the West and the many cultural uses of plants in antiquity: symbolic, religious, culinary, medicinal, ornamental, and technological. She is Elias Ajuha Professor of Classics at the University of Delaware and is affiliated with the Delaware Environmental Institute. Giesecke was named the Archaeological Institute of America Jashemski Lecturer for 2013–14. Her recent major publications include The Mythology of Plants: Botanical Lore from Ancient Greece and Rome (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014), The Good Gardener? Nature, Humanity and the Garden (coedited with Naomi Jacobs; Artifice Books on Architecture, 2015), and, with botanist David Mabberley, the forthcoming A Cultural History of Plants.