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Keynote Speaker: Professor Courtney Ann Roby (Cornell University)
The literatures and material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world manifest an abiding interest in wonder and the wondrous, often described with such marked vocabulary as θαῦμα, ἄπιστος, and παράδοξος, on the Greek side, and mirabile, miraculum, and monstrum, on the Latin side.
As early as the Homeric epics, we find a fascination in the emotional efficacy and persuasive power of wonder. In later periods, Herodotus is drawn to Egypt because it contains ‘the most’ marvels. Plato and Aristotle suggest that wonder, and not utilitarian concerns, originally inspired people to undertake philosophical inquiry. However, wonder can also distract people from the truth. Pliny the Elder is troubled by the human desire not only to imitate but also to reimagine natural marvels by blurring the lines between categories like god/human/animal, living/dead, man/woman, and fiction/reality.
Authors of the Hellenistic and imperial periods ponder the characteristics of wonder itself. We find the most straightforward evidence of this in the believe-it-or-not lists of paradoxographers like Callimachus, Antigonus, and Phlegon of Tralles. However, this activity also occurs more subtly across other genres, from the technical works of Hero of Alexandria, to the satires of Juvenal, to the verse of Ovid, to the prose fiction of Achilles Tatius, Apuleius, and Lucian. This phenomenon is embedded in the broader contemporary cultural practices of collecting and displaying curiosities, of transforming visual landscapes with illusionistic artistic techniques, of impersonating historical, divine and legendary figures, and of testing the limits of representation.
LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA, USA)
ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: Johanna Kaiser; Maria Kovalchuk; Scheherazade Khan