1st Edition

Ecphrastic Shields in Graeco-Roman Literature The World’s Forge

By Karel Thein Copyright 2022
    410 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume takes a fresh look at ekphrasis as a textual practice closely connected to our embodied imagination and its verbal dimension; it offers the first detailed study of a large family of ancient ecphrastic shields, often studied separately, but never as an ensemble with its own development.

    The main objective consists of establishing a theoretical and historical framework that is applied to a series of famous ecphrastic shields starting with the Homeric shield of Achilles. The latter is reinterpreted as a paradigmatic "thing" whose echoing down the centuries is reinforced by the fundamental connection between ekphrasis and artefacts as its primary objects. The book demonstrates that although the ancient sources do not limit ekphrasis to artificial creations, the latter are most efficient in bringing out the intimate affinity between artefacts and vivid mental images as two kind of entities that lack a natural scale and are rightly understood as ontologically unstable.

    Ecphrastic Shields in Graeco-Roman Literature: The World’s Forge should be read by those interested in ancient culture, art and philosophy, but also by those fascinated by the broader issue of imagination and by the interplay between the natural and the artificial.


    1. Limits of defi nition: from progymnasmata to the ecphrastic life at large

    2. The shield of Achilles: between the body and the universe

    3. The shield of Heracles: the monstrous and the civilized

    4. The shield of Aeneas: touching the mental image

    5. Other voices, other shields: the ecphrastic life mutating

    Conclusion: ekphrasis in the expanded field


    Karel Thein is Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. His research focuses on ancient thought, including philosophy and its relation to visual arts and poetry. He is no less interested in the general question of imagination as an important facet of human nature, and in the presence of antiquity in contemporary thought and culture. Naturally, he keeps working on how all these issues are related. His publications in English and French include several monographs on Plato and numerous articles and chapters on philosophy and art.

    "Thein offers scholars and students of ecphrasis many interesting observations that will surely give them much food for thought." - Bryn Mawr Classical Review