The Hellenistic Aesthetic

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The Hellenistic World: Week 7 Seminar

The Hellenistic Aesthetic
This seminar will be held on February 28th. The class will be split in two groups (2-3 pm, 3-4 pm). Division of groups will be made alphabetically, and I will post a list outside room 229 (Dr Newby’ office).
The aim of this seminar is to think about what made Hellenistic art ‘Hellenistic’. This means considering not just at the style and subject matter of works of art themselves, but also the way that people in the Hellenistic period thought about and looked at art.

We will therefore be looking at a series of epigrams from the Palatine anthology written about works of art in the Hellenistic period, and considering them in conjunction with surviving examples of Hellenistic art, and how these are interpreted.

M. Beard & J. Henderson, Classical Art from Greece to Rome (2001) chap 3

S. Goldhill, ‘The naïve and knowing eye: ecphrasis and the culture of viewing in the Hellenistic world’ in Goldhill & Osborne eds, Art and Text in Ancient Greek Culture (1994) p 197–223

A. Gow & D. Page, The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams, 2 vols (1965)

Z. Newby, ‘Reading the Allegory of the Archelaos Relief’, in Newby & Leader-Newby, Art & Inscriptions in the Ancient World (2007) p156–178 useful case study of interpreting an individual work of Hellenistic art.

J. J. Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age (1986) esp. p 1–16 for his discussion of 5 ‘attitudes’ characteristic of the Hellenistic age that are reflected in its art, and chap. 6 (Rococo, Realism and the Exotic) for harder-to-interpret examples of Hellenistic art.

Also look at general books on Greek/Hellenistic sculpture from assessed essay bibliography (eg. Ridgway, Stewart, Smith) for images and information on named sculptors. Extra copies of articles by Goldhill and Newby in box in office.

The Epigrams
16.168 re. Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles
Paris saw me naked, and Anchises, and Adonis too.

Three alone that I know of — so how did Praxiteles contrive it?

16.275 re. Kairos of Lysippos
Questioner: Who and whence your sculptor? Statue: From Sikyon. Q: And his name? S: Lysippos. Q: And who are you? S: Kairos that subdues all. Q: Why do you go on tiptoe? S: I’m always running. Q: And why a pair of wings on your feet? S: I fly with the wind. Q: And why do you hold a razor in your right hand? S: As a sign to men, that I am sharper than the sharpest edge. Q: Your hair, why is it over your eyes? S: For anyone I meet to take me by the forelock. Q: And Heavens, why you are bald behind? S: Because once I’ve raced by someone with winged feet, he’ll never grab me from behind, no matter how strong his desire. Q: Why did the artist fashion you? S: For your sake, stranger, and set me up on the porch as a lesson. (Poseidippos)
re. Myron’s sculpture of a Cow [five of 29 epigrams surviving about this sculpture]
Myron did not sculpt me. He lied. But he drove me pasturing

From the herd and bound me to a stone base. (Leonidas 9.719)

Either this is a cow with the skin wholly of bronze clothing it outside, or the bronze has a soul inside (Euenus 9.717)
Perhaps Myron himself will say ‘This heifer is not what I moulded, but that whose image I moulded’. (Euenus, 9.718)
The herdsman calls the cow to him: if it delays, the fault is of the senseless bronze, not Myron’s. (Antipater of Thessalonica, 9.728)
Take the collar from my neck, farmer, and the furrow-working iron. Myron did not turn my bronze to flesh; by his art he created the appearance of life, so that often I would even like to bellow. But he fixed me to my base and so prevented me from going to work. (Philip 9.742)

Things to think about:
What aspects of the works of art are emphasized in these epigrams (note: there are at least two different strategies represented in the epigrams here)?
Do they describe the appearance of the sculptures that form their subjects?
Do the sculptures mentioned still survive? Does this matter?
How can we use these epigrams to understand the process of looking at, and interpreting art in the Hellenistic world?
What sort of problems of interpretation do surviving works of Hellenistic art pose (especially those classed as ‘realistic’ and ‘rococo’)? Can epigrams like this help us to understand them?
What does the term ‘aesthetic’ mean?
Is a ‘Hellenistic aesthetic’ something that the art and literature of the period share?

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