Anna Athanasopoulou (PhD candidate, University of Cambridge)
Lucian’s Hippias provides an exemplary case of a detailed architectural ecphrasis of a Roman bathhouse. By resorting to a wide range of enargeic devices, Lucian frames the primary sense experience of the bath in a way that aims at actively engaging the sensory apparatus of the
reader. This poikilotropic writing style (diversity of enargeic devices) reflects the architectural poikilia (multifariousness) of the building itself and creates a ‘bodily-felt’ readerly experience of the marvellous.
The aim of this paper is threefold. First, to identify and classify the various enargeic devices that Lucian uses to re-create the texture of the marvellous of Hippias’ architecture and, through a close examination of their functionality, to analyse how each of these devices shape and inform the reader’s perceptual experience of the bathhouse.
Second, to consider how by re-creating the viewer’s immersive experience of architecture, the Hippias tests the appropriateness of thaumazein in Imperial culture (cf. Lucian’s De Domo; see Hunzinger 2015: 422-37): is an educated man (πεπαιδευμένος ἀνήρ) expected to develop an exclusively intellectualized appreciation of art/architecture that excludes the possibility of a more direct engagement with artefacts/architectural spaces from an aesthetic angle or is there something in Lucian’s conjuring of the experience of art/architecture that suggests otherwise?
Third, to show that by developing a vocabulary of conceptual frameworks that match the various aspects of the sensorium evoked in the Hippias, we as readers, have at our disposal a methodological tool which can help us reframe questions regarding the nature of
(architectural) ecphrasis beyond the traditional interpretative framework of the paragonal image/text theory.
The deus ex machina appears at the end of Greek tragedies ‘in order to cut the knot’ (Bieber2 1961, 30), ‘to deal with loose ends’ (West 1987, 287), ‘to tie up loose ends, resolve all problems, and guarantee that the action is complete’ (Dunn 1996, 26). Or so holds the traditional view.
But what if were to think of this iconic element of Greek tragedy not as a structural device of the plot but as an object with particular material properties and which serves a specific purpose: to manifest divine presence. This paper examines the mēchanē as an object of divine marvel, arguing for the mechanical as another strategy of visual epiphany and locating the theatrical cranewithin such a Greek cultural discourse.
Six case studies have been chosen to demonstrate the intertwining theological and theatrical significance of the mēchanē. Euripides’ Helen, we shall see, uses the mēchanē to confirm divine form in a play otherwise full of illusion. A concern with the form(s) of the divine also pervades the Bacchae and in that play, the mechanical epiphany is presented as the culmination in a series of Dionysus’ divine guises. Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Euripides’ Heracles use the mēchanē less to explore divine appearance and more to theorise issues of space, movement and the connectedness of divine and mortal realms. Lastly, the Orestes and Medea of Euripides are two plays which question divine epiphany most overtly through use of the mēchanē, bringing to the fore issues of boundaries between human and divine.
Dr Martin Devecka (Assistant Professor, University of California Santa Cruz)
For the Greeks and the Romans, "marvelous" behavior was often an essential component of animal ethology. My paper shows how this was true for one animal—the mouse—that was so much a part of everyday life in the ancient Mediterranean as to have (one might think) no more surprises to offer.
I begin by sketching out the quasi-domesticity (Pliny, HN 8.57) of mice in the Roman imaginary. As Vergil, Cicero and others attest, the relationship between man and mouse is characterized by a kind of anxiety: mice, ever-present in the household, nevertheless escape domination and may at any moment become dangerous.
I then characterize the ancient evidence for "marvelous" (thaumastos, prodigiosus) mouse behavior as involving the realization of this anxious expectation, such that mice become an existential threat to households in which they have always been a noisome presence. I show how Roman authors treated a range of incidents, including mice chewing metal and depopulating islands, under this rubric.
I conclude by offering some general observations about "behavioral marvels" in Roman zoology. Like all miracles, they do not occur in a vacuum but against a background of expectations as to how the world "should" behave. In the case of mice (and other species too), observers shaped their accounts of miracles in accord with anxieties to which those expectations gave rise. We are used to the idea that human miracle-workers cater to audience expectations. The same kind of conformity emerging in the case of animal miracles raises important questions about where we should locate the agency that generates the miraculous.
Dr Maria Gerolemou (Leventis Postdoctoral Research Associate University of Exeter)
Epigrammatists or writers of ekphrasis of classical antiquity often define living images as the product of rhetoric and imagination; in this respect, moving artifacts amount to a narrative enactment of the metaphorical subtlety of art and art’s aptitude for a precise mimetic representation of nature. Byzantine writers of ekphraseis, on the other hand, by encouraging in their audience the conscious awareness of and reference to the qualities displayed by technological artifacts (for instance, automata), expand its sensorium, forcing it to rethink the workings of enargeia, vividness, and phantasia and, in effect, the limits and potentials of artistic representation. More specifically, by exhibiting a high level of precision through the use of technical vocabulary works like Paul Silentiary’s and Procopius’ of Caesaria depictions of the Hagia Sophia and Procopius of Gaza’s Horologium attribute a sensory character to their descriptions, rather than merely suggesting that the vivid presence of art is a by-product of the spectator’s imagination and the orator’s skills. Consequently, the wonderment sparked by their animated art which in the ekphrastic tradition appears as part of aesthetic perception in terms of ekplẽxẽs, disruption, and often borders on deception, has an additional meaning. As in the case of wondering at mechanical automata in Heros’ Peri Automatopoiitikis, the Byzantine wonder-artifacts engage the senses along with cognition; the audience stares at the moving figures, widening its eyes before the technical excellence of the artifact and the artisan’s ability to make matter move.
Dr Claire Jackson (College Teaching Associate, Sidney Sussex, University of Cambridge)
Chariton’s Callirhoe is a novel built around a thauma. From the outset Callirhoe is described as marvellous (θαυμαστόν τι χρῆμα παρθένου), a cult-statue (ἄγαλμα τῆς ὅλης Σικελίας), and a paradoxical sight (παραδόξον θεάμα, 1.1.1-2). These descriptions characterise the sight of Callirhoe as a thauma, but also raise questions about how such an unbelievable vision is to be viewed and interpreted. Callirhoe is as beautiful as Aphrodite, but specifically Aphrodite Parthenos (1.1.2), while also being a marvellous mortal parthenos, a combination which simultaneously demands and denies erotic voyeurism. Callirhoe’s thaumastic beauty unsettles the viewing models invoked by this opening description and exposes questions which shape the rest of the novel: should Callirhoe be understood as a mortal, goddess, artwork, or miracle? What does it mean to call Callirhoe θαυμαστόν and what paradigms of viewing and interpretation does this invoke? How do we read Callirhoe the character – and Callirhoe the novel?
In this paper, I will argue that Chariton’s Callirhoe exploits traditions of thauma in order not just to question how to view such an incredible sight, but to challenge how such an unbelievable fiction as the novel is to be read and interpreted. Callirhoe’s appearance has been viewed through the lenses of art history (Hunter 1994, Zeitlin 2003) and divine epiphany (Hägg 2002), but its thaumastic significance has not yet been explored. After considering this programmatic opening I will explore how reactions to Callirhoe as thauma shift as she travels from Sicily to Persia in ways which respond to cultural stereotypes while simultaneously questioning just how culturally relative marvel really is. By reading Callirhoe in this way, I aim to both situate this specific novel within early imperial thaumastic traditions and also consider wider theoretical questions about the relationship between the experiences of thauma and of fiction.
Hägg, T. (2002) ‘Epiphany in the Greek Novels: The Employment of a Metaphor,’ Eranos 100: 51-61.
Hunter, R. (1994) ‘History and Historicity in the Romance of Chariton’, ANRW II.34.2: 1055-86.
Zeitlin, F. I. (2003) ‘Living Portraits and Sculpted Bodies in Chariton’s Theatre of Romance’ in S. Panayotakis, M. Zimmerman, and W. Keulen (eds.) The Ancient Novel and Beyond, Leiden: 71-83.
Dr George Kazantzidis (Assistant Professor of Latin Literature, Patras)
In early Greek paradoxographical collections, humans are rarely mentioned as a cause of wonder per se; instead, emphasis is placed on the marvels of the natural world: odd animal behavior, rivers and springs with unusual properties, stones that change their color, they all contribute to shape a wonderful landscape from which the human subject is more or less absent- except as an observer/reader.
In this paper I will address this absence by paying attention to the few stories, in the pseudo-Aristotelian Περὶ θαυμασίων ἀκουσμάτων, which have humans as their subject. My aim is to show that, despite the fact that they do not occur frequently, most of these human-related marvels have something to tell us about the poetics of wonder more broadly; they serve as pressure points in the narrative in which the paradoxographer reflects on his work and on its intended impact on his readers. Thus, the story of the man in Abydus ([Arist.] Mir. ausc. 31) who visits the empty theatre and is hallucinating performances that only he can watch and enjoy, could be seen as thematizing the implicit contrast between artificial and natural wonder in early paradoxography: the content of the madman’s hallucinations, generated in an urban and aesthetically charged landscape, remains unknown and becomes effectively overshadowed by the marvellous spectacles of the natural world to which we as readers have full access throughout the collection. At the same time, the illusory nature of the performances he is watching alerts us to the fictional status of paradoxography as a genre: the material excerpted in the collection may be equally deceptive, a figment of the author’s imagination. Likewise, in [Arist.] Mir. Ausc. 178 – appropriately placed as a sphragis at the very end of the collection – we read of a certain Demaratus who falls sick and becomes ‘voiceless’ (aphonos) for ten days; when he recovers from his insanity, he claims that this was the best time he ever had in his life. Once again, to be ‘in a loss of words’ is typical of how the experience of thauma is shaped, both cognitively and affectively, in antiquity, and the story could therefore be read as having metapoetic overtones; furthermore, the emphasis placed on ‘pleasure’ (ἔφησεν ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον ἥδιστα αὑτῷ βεβιῶσθαι), can be taken as a hint that paradoxography aims primarily to entertain. A final example, that of the stone on Mount Tmolus which changes color four times a day but can only be witnessed by ‘virgins who have not yet reached the age of phronesis‘ (βλέπεσθαι δὲ ὑπὸ παρθένων τῶν μὴ τῷ χρόνῳ φρονήσεως μετεχουσῶν, [Arist.] Mir. Ausc. 174) is a nod to the special ‘sympathy’ developed between women and the world of marvels; at the same time, the story implicates, once again, sick patients whose powers of cognition have been obviously compromised.
Each one of these stories has something to tell us about the poetics of paradoxography. The fact that insanity occupies a special place in all of them is revealing of the genre’s subversive nature: most of what is disclosed about it, and about thauma more broadly, is filtered though the imagination of an affected mind.
Dr Jessica Lightfoot (Junior Research Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge)
This paper explores why the language of marvels and marvel-making has become significant as a means of describing the rhetorical impact of oratory and orators in the latter half of the fourth century BCE. It focuses on the place of wonderand its perceived effects in fourth-century oratory by examining the ways in which Demosthenes and Aeschines fling language associated with thauma and other associated terms back and forth between themselves as they battle it out over the course of their five corresponding vituperative speeches: Aeschines’ Against Timarchus (346/5 BCE), On the False Embassy (343 BCE) and Against Ctesiphon (330 BCE), and Demosthenes On the False Embassy (343 BCE) and On the Crown (330 BCE). As well as exploring the significance of the use and abuse of terms associated with wonder and wonder-makingas means of fashioning the self and others in the oratory of this period, this paper will demonstrate that the use of this language in Aeschines and Demosthenes is rendered particularly complex by the fact that the world of the Athenian theatre, with all of its thaumatic representations, is never lurking far from the surface in the particular speeches which the two orators sling back and forth at each other.
Professor Karen Ni-Mheallaigh (Professor of Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter)
This paper focuses on a strange little story from antiquity: the tale of unbreakable glass. The story appears in Petronius’ novel Satyrica 50-51, and survives in two other versions in documentary sources as well (Pliny, NH 36.195 and Cassius Dio, Roman History 57.21.5-7). I will focus on the Petronian version, since fiction arguably provides a richer quarry from which we can excavate the semiotics of the marvellous.
An unnamed artisan, so the story goes, invents a marvellous new form of flexible glass. He fashions a bowl out of it and presents this as a gift to the emperor in anticipation of a rich reward. But instead, in a horrifying twist, the emperor has him executed in order to suppress all knowledge of his subversive discovery.
In comparison with the more famous supernatural tales in the Satyrica, this humbler techno-narrative has barely drawn the critical eye except from historians of glass, though David Scourfield – in an unpublished paper – argues convincingly that it is an example of an ancient urban legend. My analysis explores the semiotics of the material itself: the marvellous glass and how it embodies and reflects qualities of its narrator Trimalchio and its narrative context(s). Finally, I will etch out a context for understanding this artisanal wonder by showing how glass captivated the ancient scientific imagination: from the vitreous humour of Lucian’s True Stories, to Mesomedes’ hyaline poetics, in a poem about glass that celebrated its marvellous molten quality.
Dr Irene Pajón Leyra (Assistant Professor, Seville)
Hellenistic and Roman paradoxographic literature focuses, among other things, on the compilation of lists of curiosities of the natural world, mostly of exotic and far landscapes. As a subgenre of historiography, its approach is that of the description of verified facts, i.e., extraordinary anecdotes that, even if odd and unexplained, remain in the field of nature and only rarely close the border of the supernatural.
The aim of this paper is to examine precisely those cases in which that border is crossed and the extraordinary natural phenomena become real miracles, explained through a supernatural intervention, in order to answer questions as, for instance, how is the literary building of these stories? Or what is the interaction of the paradoxographer with his sources in these peculiar cases?
Professor Ian Ruffell (Professor of Greek Drama and Culture, University of Glasgow)
The apparent frivolity of much of Hellenistic mechanics has often led scholars to seek to uncover ways in which these texts are "really" about more serious discourses or even (from antiquity onwards, and despite evidence to the contrary) to claim mechanics for another discipline, whether that is philosophy or mathematics or economics. This paper takes a different approach and argues that in order to understand the rhetoric and status of ancient mechanics we need to take performance seriously. It tracks the categories of thaumatopoiia and thaumatourgia from the Classical to Hellenistic period, in order to show how mechanical texts are finessing their heritage, towards a form of performative writing and performative knowledge. This new mechanical discourse refines but does not disown its disorderly heritage in wonder-working. The emphasis on performativity allows us to understand the limits of ancient mechanical writing as theoretical texts, but to give them their full significance as cultural products.
Dr Hugo Shakeshaft (Junior Research Fellow, Christ Church College, Oxford)
When Telemachos and Peisistratos arrive at Menelaos’ ‘divine palace’, they are greeted with a feast for the eyes: ‘they gazed in wonder at the house of the king… for there was a radiance like the sun or moon over the high-roofed house of noble Menelaos’ (Hom. Od. 4.43-6). Amazed by the palace, Telemachos later comments that ‘this is how it must be inside the court of Olympian Zeus… awe holds me as I look.’ For Telemachos, the radiant palace inspires visual wonder (θαῦμα), delight (τέρψις) and awe (σέβας)—an aesthetic intensity that evokes a divine connection, a semblance of Zeus’ own palace. Gazing in wonder and delight at the palace, Telemachos gains a sense of how gods live; the experience of the marvellous here provides a medium for relating to the gods, just as it does in Archaic literary narratives of divine manifestation to mortals. If Archaic texts demonstrate the importance of the marvellous in human relations with the divine, how did Archaic temples, which framed encounters with the gods housed within, appeal to and evoke ideas and experiences of the marvellous? In this paper, I will explore this question through a case study on temple C at Selinous in Sicily (c.540-510 BCE), which provides an ideal test case given its state of preservation and knowledge of its archaeological context. Despite their neglect in the study of Greek religion, temples and their imagery offer a vital point of access into the role of the marvellous in human interactions with the divine in Archaic Greece.
In this paper, I examine paradoxographical material in Tacitus, and demonstrate its impact for conveying to the reader the questions and problems inherent in historiographical research. While ancient historiography had a broad conception of the types of material that could be considered appropriate for treatment by a historian, ancient writers do criticize historians who tell lies (Gabba 1981). One such type of "falsehood" is historians’ inclusion of miraculous events in their narratives. By contrast, paradoxography, a "genre" devoted to list-like compendia of marvellous facts and phenomena that got its start during the Hellenistic period, revelled in this sort of material. In order to achieve the maximum possible sense of wonder in a reader, paradoxographical texts are predicated upon the notion that all of the outlandish facts reported are true. Tacitus, despite historiography’s bias against μῦθος/fabula, approaches much closer to a paradoxographical mode of describing the marvellous than might have been anticipated.
I enumerate the paradoxographical material present in Tacitus’ works, basing my criteria on the topoi of the genre identified by Giannini 1966, 427–430: Tacitus’ works embrace many types of marvels that attracted the paradoxographers, especially mirabilia de aquis, de animalibus, de plantis, de corpore, and περὶ θαυματουργῶν. Sometimes he offers an explanation for a marvel or other forms of proof to verify it (e.g. Agr. 10.5-6, G. 45.4-6, H. 5.6), something which the paradoxographers never do. On these occasions, Tacitus shows us himself applying the tools of his trade in order to trace causation, one of the key tasks of historiography, in marvellous cases that test the boundaries of authenticity. On other occasions, Tacitus refuses to provide an explanation for a marvel, in ways that highlight the aporia and ambiguity inherent in the historian’s task (e.g. G. 46.4; H. 4.81-82; Ann. 2.24.4). In such cases, readers have to assess the evidence presented and come to their own conclusion. Marvels in Tacitus thus become a powerful locus for considering questions of truth, causation, authenticity, and proof that are core to the goals of historiography as a genre.
Dr Peter Singer (Research Fellow, Birkbeck College, University of London)
In Plato, ‘wonder’ is very often an ironical or negative term, used in the context of negative – including ironic or sarcastic – accounts or ignorant, deluded or mischievous attitudes and behaviour. Where wonder does have positive or elevated connotations – for example in the ‘ascent’ of the Symposium – it may nevertheless be a temporary, transitional experience, not a desirable long-term attitude. (And these two features – the ‘suspicious’ use of the term, and wonder as a preliminary experiential stage – may be paralleled by, respectively, many negative appearances of thauma in Tragedy, and Aristotle’s account of wonder as the starting-point for intellectual enquiry (Metaphysics 1, 982b).)
We contrast this dynamic with later developments in the Platonic tradition – exemplified by Galen and Proclus. For Galen, wonder is not just the starting-point for intellectual enquiry, but also its end-point – the appropriate attitude of religious awe in the face of the operations of the universe, especially the phenomena of anatomy and physiology, which manifest a marvellous and intricate intelligent design. Yet this theoretical wonder (in e.g. The Function of the Parts, Natural Capacities)sits alongside completely different connotations in his medical narratives (e.g. Prognosis, Simple Drugs). Here – reflecting the above background – thauma is either something fraudulently produced by others, or else an ignorant reaction to Galen’s apparently ‘miraculous’ cures. Rhetorically, the discourse operates on two levels, simultaneously encouraging that reaction of wonder and denying its validity (there is a perfectly rational explanation, no ‘wonder’). Proclus, meanwhile (in his Commentary on Parmenides), performs an extraordinary transformation on the Platonic text, turning a series of ironic, everyday uses of ‘amazement’ terminology by Socrates (‘I would be amazed if …’) into the discovery of undreamt-of metaphysical complexities which do, indeed, demand our constant wonder and admiration.
Beginning from a close consideration of the use of ‘wonder’ terms (esp. thauma and cognates), the paper proceeds by investigating their varying dialectical contexts and uses, within Plato and within two of his much later ‘followers’, Galen and (much more briefly) Proclus. Tracing a development – in some senses a reversal – within the Platonic tradition, we point to different ways in which ‘wonder’ is used to construct and delimit intellectual and, indeed, emotional communities in Graeco-Roman philosophical and medical contexts.
Dr Eris Williams-Reed (Teaching Assistant, Durham University)
This paper will explore the ways in which marvels were recognised and experienced in the natural environment through a focused discussion of Yammoune, a village located in the Beqaa Valley (Lebanon) that was once home to a significant Latin-speaking population. Situated in a fertile valley, Yammoune centred on a seasonal lake that formed every March when snow-melt from the nearby mountains merged with water from local springs. The site was also home to another wondrous feature: a giant sinkhole located in the southeast of the lake. Both of the lake’s peculiar characteristics – its seasonality and its sinkhole – captured the imaginations of Yammoune’s religious communities. A large religious installation was constructed to sit within the lake’s waters during the annual inundation, a practice not without precedent elsewhere in the Roman Near East. Moreover, worshippers gathered each year to celebrate a festival in which offerings were cast into the lake in honour of Yammoune’s local goddess. According to Zosimus (New History 1.58), if the goddess accepted the gifts then the items would sink to the bottom of the lake but, if she rejected the gifts, they would float to the surface. Although such cultic traditions are known from elsewhere in the ancient world, they take on an additional dimension at Yammoune where the site’s geological composition had the capacity to make offerings disappear through the sinkhole or reappear when the lake dried out. Accordingly, this paper will aim to highlight the role of the environment as medium through which marvels were experienced in the Graeco-Roman world.