BMCR 2020.01.47

Gaze, Vision, and Visuality in Ancient Greek Literature. Trends in classics. Supplementary volumes, 54

Alexandros Kampakoglou, Anna Novokhatko, Gaze, Vision, and Visuality in Ancient Greek Literature. Trends in classics. Supplementary volumes, 54. Berlin; Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2018. xiii, 509. ISBN 9783110568998 ebook.

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[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This volume owes its origins to a conference of the same title (Freiburg, December 2014) although the contents differ somewhat from the proceedings. It claims to differ from other edited collections on similar topics in what admittedly has become a crowded field, by its emphasis “on genres and media,” unlike so-called “thematically” organized volumes. The aim here in 18 essays (plus Introduction) amounting to more than 500 pages is to “track the evolution of visual culture in Greece,” while also addressing broader topics, such as “theories of vision and the prominence of visuality in specific periods, and the position of visuality in the hierarchization of the senses.” While the introduction includes brief descriptions of the 18 essays that follow, abstracts in this multidirectional volume would have been very welcome, considering the range of genres, topics, and periods. In such a project, cross-references among the contributors are non-existent. Proceeding chronologically, however, we begin with epic and lyric—Homer (4 essays), Apollonius Rhodius (2), and Stesichorus (1). The next rubric is drama (4 essays): one on Aeschylus’ Oresteia, one on Euripides’ Bacchae, and two on Greek comedy. Third is the largest category: Rhetoric, Historiography, and Philosophy with five essays on Gorgias and Isocrates, Herodotus and Thucydides, Procopius, Xenophon’s Cyropaideia, and lastly Plato’s Phaedo and Timaeus. The final section is called “Literary Texts Meeting Other Media.” It contains a lengthy and magisterial essay by Michael Squire on ekphrasis and Philostratus the Younger’s depiction of the shield of Achilles, three times removed from the original; next an examination of clothing (“Undressing for Artemis: Sensory Approaches to Clothes Dedications n Hellenistic Epigram and in the Cult of Artemis Brauronia”); and finally “Viewing and Identification: The Agency of the Viewer,” in which it is argued that the relative indeterminacy of the identity of a visual image (e.g. is it just a kouros or Apollo?) compels viewers to make their own identification. The quasi-obligatory figure of Helen in such a context appears in both Stesichorus and the two rhetoricians, Gorgias and Isocrates.

In such an ambitious collection, it seems fair to say that not all the essays are of equal quality or interest, even from well-respected scholars whose work I generally admire, and some of the topics are outside my expertise, but I will focus on a few contributions from epic, drama, philosophy, and the visual arts, with apologies to other worthies I have had to omit.

The essays on Homer, alas, are disappointing in the main. Létoublon’s “War as a Spectacle,” is an odd and disjointed piece from a much admired critic that ranges from Homeric semantics to the notion of the Iliad as a theater, Achilles’ anger, the conquest of the gate and the space of fighting, figuring the spectators (‘real’ and imaginary), followed by Zeus’s scales, the poet’s address to a character, duel and challenge, Achilles’ spear as a character, the chariot race, Hector’s Lusis (ransom + Aristotle’s idea of lusis), and the simile in book 24 (seeing each other in a mirror). This assortment uses terms arbitrarily (such as ‘theater’), jumps from one topic to another, and left this reader mystified on more than one occasion as to what in fact visuality meant to the author. There is a long bibliography, but the different approaches cited in other works do not seem to cohere in any manageable way. If similes, then focus on similes; and if theater, then it needs to be more than a metaphor or a vague allusion to the tragic elements of the Iliad.

Another esteemed scholar, Jonas Grethlein, in “The Eyes of Odysseus. Gaze, Desire, and Control in the Odyssey,” is also not at his best here. He singles out passages in which the gaze of Odysseus contributes to the narrative dynamics of the poem as an expression of both desire and aggression. It first posits a disruption of the nexus between gaze and desire on Ogygia and Scheria, where the desire to return ( nostos) short-circuits any erotic engagement between Calypso and Nausicaa. Second, the language of the gaze highlights Odysseus’ increasing power on Ithaca, which allows him to kill the suitors. Finally, there is the gaze beyond literature—that is, vases: eyes on vases, the gorgoneion and the links between gaze and aggression, focusing on the popularity of the blinding of Polyphemus (the reflexive potential of the eye for visual artist). This reader would have liked a more essential connection between beauty, gaze and desire which one could find in other scenes without any necessary emphasis on vision. The argument for the empowerment of the gazer as Odysseus, who becomes the actor and author of revenge, relies on formulaic repetition of certain phrases, but the points are perhaps too subtle to carry the weight of the argument. The vase paintings are equally tangential and more context is required to make the images more specific to the essay.

Lastly, Claudia Michel’s “Blindness and Blinding in the Homeric Odyssey ” focuses on three scenes: the blinding of Polyphemus, Penelope’s tears as hindering recognition, and thirdly ate and hubris, the atasthaliai of both the suitors and Odysseus’s companions. All three rubrics are quite separate, although the author attempts to bring them together. This reader’s problem with the second and third points is that blindness in English is applied to Greek terms that are in no way semantically bound to ideas of vision. While we use such terms metaphorically as indeed ‘blind’ and ‘clouding of vision,’ the effort to tie the Greek text to these non-Greek terms founders on this simple fact of translation.

Emanuela Bakola’s “Seeing the Invisible: Interior Spaces and Uncanny Erinyes in Aeschylus’ Oresteia ” opens the second section on drama. It argues for the continued presence of the Erinyes, both seen and unseen, as related to the interior of the house and by extension to the earth itself. Relying on a good deal of speculation on staging, it claims a kindred relation between the chorus of women in the Choephoroi and the Erinyes, who manifest themselves finally in the last play. There are some excellent observations on the uses of the interior to signify interiority on a larger scale (including the underworld), but the essay seems to me to be overargued and perhaps too subtle and complicated to be entirely convincing. It is nevertheless a stimulating exercise on the relations between the seen and the unseen.

Anna Lamari’s “Visual Intertextuality in Ancient Greek Drama: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Use of Art Media” is a heroic effort to connect the play both to current vase paintings and previous plays of Aeschylus that treat Bacchic madness ( Lykourgeia, Xantriae and Toxotides. Of course, we have only fragments of these, but Lamari wants to create a web of references in vase painting more contemporary with Euripides. The argument posits a kind of “construction of a mental visual image” (whether “reproducing/recalling or building a new one”) to conclude that “theatre and pictorial art, as well as the mythical megatext, all provide material for the production of mental or actual visual images” that subsequently result in their “fusion” into the city’s “visual memory.” Ingenious, no doubt, but relying on a web of inferences with only three images of vases in the text, the reader will have to work hard to be convinced that an audience would reach this level of awareness (and recall).

Anna Novokhatkos’s “You Must Not Stand in One Place: Seeing in Sicilian and Old Attic Comedy,” offers some genuine new insights into the visual preoccupations of Aristophanes which increase as the poet’s repertory advances. The multitude of allusions to sight and seeing, whether staging some kind of spectacle through words, mapped out by one or more characters, or representing a character by his/her visual appearance, or showing an increasing awareness of theories of vision that come to prominence in this period, are convincingly argued (forget Sicily, though). Comedy, of course, is the site par excellence for creative invention, make-believe, and face-to-face shenanigans. This essay is the best in this section.

Andrea Nightingale’s stimulating contribution, “The Aesthetics of Vision in Plato’s Phaedo and Timaeus,” falls squarely within the stated purview of the volume. Distinguishing between the austerity of the late Philebus and two earlier dialogues, Phaedo and Timaeus, she focuses on the word poikilia. In the Phaedo, the argument centers on the “true earth,” a metaphysical realm, open to philosopher-viewers, which displays both the glitter and translucence of the variegated beauties in nature, in their closeness to divinity (what Nightingale calls an “aesthetics of extravagance”). In the Timaeus, on the other hand, the spotlight falls on the ‘dance of the stars’(‘visible gods’) and the valorization of vision, to praise the beauty and artistry of the heavens, an agalma, especially in regard to its aspects of gorgeous poikilia.

Finally, Michael Squire’s “A Picture of Ecphrasis: The Younger Philostratus and the Homeric Shield of Achilles,” the longest by far in the volume (59 pages), gives evidence once again of the preeminence the author has earned as a foremost authority on word and image. Squire focuses on a single chapter of the Younger Philostratus (4 th C. CE) entitled “Pyrrhus or the Mysians” which embeds a detailed description of the famed Shield of Achilles. While Pyrrhus (or Neoptolemus) has inherited the renowned shield of his father from Odysseus, the description itself at the same time looks back to the sophist’s own famous forebear, the elder Philostratus. Word and image continually refract one another, with added and paramount reference to the first ecphrasis by Homer himself in the Iliad. Ingeniously argued as though through a Möbius strip, this essay, with its copious footnotes and bibliography, offers the reader an entire parcours through the issues that preoccupied the rhetoricians of later antiquity.

To sum up, other readers will follow their own interests, and despite my criticisms of individual essays, the variety of contributions in themselves offers a glimpse into a topic of paramount importance in the study of ancient Greek culture. Likewise, the indexes of authors and subjects are very helpful in navigating the collection. A last word: there is an astonishing number of typos that simple spell-checking would have caught.

Table of Contents

Foreword (v)
List of Images (xi)
Introduction (xv-xxvi)

SECTION 1: EPIC AND LYRIC POETRY
1.War as Spectacle (F. Létoublon, 3–32)
2. The Eyes of Odysseus: Gaze, Desire and Control in the Odyssey (J. Grethlein, 33–60)
3. Blindness and Blinding in the Homeric Odyssey (C. Michel, 61–87)
4. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 4 and the Epic Gaze: There and Back Again (H. Lovatt, 88–112)
5. Gazing at Heroes in Apollonius’ Argonautica (A. Kampakoglou, 113–139)
6. Gazing at Helen with Stesichorus (P. J. Finglass, 140–149)

SECTION II: DRAMA
7. Seeing the Invisible: Interior Spaces and Uncanny Erinyes in Aeschylus’ Oresteia (E. Bakola, 163–182)
8. Visual Intertextuality in Ancient Greek Drama: Euripides Bacchae and the Use of the Art Media (A. Lamari, 187–204)
9. You Must Not Stand in One Place: Seeing in Sicilian and Old Attic Comedy (A. Novokhatko, 205–232)
10. Visual and Non-Visual Uses of demonstratives with the deictic ‘iota’ in Greek Comedy (C. Orth, 233–244)

SECTION III: RHETORIC, HISTORIOGRAPHY, AND PHILOSOPHY
11. Reimagining Helen of Troy: Gorgias and Isocrates on Seeing and Being Seen (E. C. Haskins, 245–271)
12. Metahistory and the Visual in Herodotus and Thucydides (R. Harman, 271–288)
13. Dealing with the Invisible: War in Procopius (F. Maier, 289–307)
14. Being or Appearing Virtuous? The Challenges of Leadership in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (M. Tamiolaki, 308–330)
15. The Aesthetics of Vision in Plato’s Phaedo and Timaeus (A. Nightingale, 331–56)

SECTION IV: LITERARY TEXTS MEETING OTHER MEDIA
16. A Picture of Ecphrasis: The Younger Philostratus and the Homeric Shield of Achilles (M. Squire, 357–417)
17. Undressing for Artemis: Sensory Approaches to Clothes Dedications in Hellenistic Epigram and in the Cult of Artemis Brauronia (A Petsalis-Diomidis, 418–463)
18. Viewing and Identification: The Agency of the Viewer in Archaic and Early Classical Greek Visual Culture (N. Dietrich, 464–492)

List of Contributors (493–497)
Subject Index (497–502)
Author Index (503–509)