AIA-3B: Ancient Emotions and Funerary Iconography (Colloquium)

  In-Person   AIA Session   Colloquium


Lidewijde de Jong, University of Groningen; and Bilal Annan, University of Groningen

Overview Statement

The papers assembled for this colloquium explore the topic of emotions in the ancient Mediterranean through the lens of funerary iconography. The ornamentation of funerary artifacts, figurative or not, was meant to stir up in ancient viewers a range of emotions (pity, grief, fear, compassion, admiration, religious awe, etc.). Building on recent research on emotions in the Graeco-Roman world, the speakers will discuss the manners in which the funerary artifact, through its iconographic features, functioned as an “emotion-inducing machine.”

The papers either focus on specific cultural contexts (Classical Athens, ancient Etruria, Imperial Rome, Roman Palmyra) or material categories (Roman sarcophagi). The first paper approaches the subject through the example of the classical Attic stele of Polyxene. By confronting the emotional content of its epigram with that of the sculpted scene, the text offers clues as to how to subjectively engage with the image. The second paper delves into the motivations for including demon figures in Etruscan tomb frescoes: the presenter contends that these demons were directed at the visitors rather than the banqueters depicted in the painted scenes, whose very indifference to the creatures’ presence would have generated laughter and relief in an otherwise gloomy atmosphere. The third paper presents Roman sarcophagi as antidotes to negative emotions. The funerary environment fosters fear and loathing, the former caused by the deceased’s potentially vengeful manes, the latter on account of the stench emanating from the decaying corpses. Sculptors resorted to decorative patterns to alleviate these unpleasant emotions. The fourth paper chooses to examine how the decorative program in the second century C.E. Tomb H-H1 in the Vatican necropolis would have provided solace for the premature death of children. The fifth paper looks at unfinished, yet used Proconnesian sarcophagi found across the Roman East, to determine what sort of emotions the unfinishedness of their ornamental apparel would have instilled in viewers. The final paper, on Palmyrene tombs, addresses the seeming contradiction between a collective obsession with the monumental commemoration of the deceased and the affective discretion that epitaphs and ornamentation impart, demonstrating the emotional potency of portraits within the commemorative process. The papers in this colloquium seek to resuscitate the funerary space as a lived ancient reality, one in which the grounding of individual and collective memories and the subjective experience of the bereaved were significantly enhanced or transformed by the iconographic discourse.