1st Edition

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

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after September 30, 2021
ISBN 9780367722548
September 30, 2021 Forthcoming by Routledge
496 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations

USD $160.00

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

List of Figures


About the Cover: Cy Twombly’s Shield of Achilles


1. Imagination, Things and Ecphrastic Artificiality

2. Description Ancient to Modern and Back Again

3. Ekphrasis and Art History

4. A Platonic Aside

5. Summary of the Chapters

6. Ekphrasis and the Naturalness of Artifice

Chapter 1. Limits of Definition: From Progymnasmata to the Ecphrastic Life at Large

1. Descriptions Require Training: On the Progymnasmata

2. Inclination Towards Artefacts

3. Between the Extraordinary and the Typical

4. Nature Made Culture

5. Ecphrastic Life and the Avoidance of Ontology

Chapter 2. The Shield of Achilles: Between the Body and the Universe

1. Images in the Body: Head or Heart, Humans or Gods

2. The Forge of Hephaestus

3. The Cosmic Frame and Its Indeterminacy

4. Human Cities, Gods at War and Darker Forces

5. The Shield on the Battlefield

6. The Ecphrastic Countryside

7. The Dancing Motions

Chapter 3. The Shield of Heracles: The Monstrous and the Civilized

1. An Alternative Universe

2. Heracles, the "Hero God"

3. Material Incongruity

4. Fear, Strife, Dark Fates

5. The Levels of War

6. The Malleable Shield

7. Maritime Landscape and the Invisible Perseus

8. The Noise of War and a Subtle View of Peace

9. Nature Suspended and a Different Kind of Life

Chapter 4. The Shield of Aeneas: Touching the Mental Image

1. The Game of Scale

2. A Note on Lessing’s Misreading

3. The Pictures in Juno’s Temple: Anticipating the Shield

4. The Shield Made and Revealed: A Variety of Scales

5. From the Caring She-Wolf to Raging Humans

6. Nocturnal Wonders

7. Lupercalia, Furies and Silver Dolphins

8. Gods and Monsters at Actium: A Cosmic War

9. The Aftermath of Victory and the Order Revisited

10. Ecphrastic Artificiality and its Enactment

11. The Shield in Relief: Touch and Mental Image

Chapter 5. Other Voices, Other Shields: The Ecphrastic Life Mutating

1. An Interlude: The Shields That Stare Us Down

2. The Travels of the Shield of Achilles

3. A Latin Shield of Achilles

4. The Next Generation: The Shield of Achilles in the Younger Philostratus

5. The Shields of Achilles and Eurypylus in Quintus of Smyrna

6. From the Shields of Hannibal and Theseus to Shield as Mirror

7. The Last Great Shield: Nonnus of Panopolis and the Shield of Dionysus

Conclusion: Ekphrasis in the Expanded Field



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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.