This is a study of ekphrasis, the art of making listeners and readers 'see' in their imagination through words alone, as taught in ancient rhetorical schools and as used by Greek writers of the Imperial period (2nd-6th centuries CE). The author places the practice of ekphrasis within its cultural context, emphasizing the importance of the visual imagination in ancient responses to rhetoric, poetry and historiography. By linking the theoretical writings on ekphrasis with ancient theories of imagination, emotion and language, she brings out the persuasive and emotive function of vivid language in the literature of the period. This study also addresses the contrast between the ancient and the modern definitions of the term ekphrasis, underlining the different concepts of language, literature and reader response that distinguish the ancient from the modern approach. In order to explain the ancient understanding of ekphrasis and its place within the larger system of rhetorical training, the study includes a full analysis of the ancient technical sources (rhetorical handbooks, commentaries) which aims to make these accessible to non-specialists. The concluding chapter moves away from rhetorical theory to consider the problems and challenges involved in 'turning listeners into spectators' with a particular focus on the role of ekphrasis within ancient fiction. Attention is also paid to texts that lie at the intersection of the modern and ancient definitions of ekphrasis, such as Philostratos' Imagines and the many ekphraseis of buildings and monuments to be found in Late Antique literature.
Ruth Webb is Professor of Greek at the University of Lille, France.
’There is much that makes this book an essential for every serious library. First, the judgment, knowledge, and long reflection, which make this so poised, clear, and authoritative a work. ... Second, Webb, unlike so many who write on her slice of the action, is critically sophisticated, aware of counter-arguments, and engages with a broad linguistic and historical critical frame. ... Third - and this is what motivated me to write this review - she raises in the starkest possible terms the tension between the authority of the handbooks and the direction taken by recent work, [...], on visual culture.’ Bryn Mawr Classical Review 'Throughout, Webb comfortable leapfrogs centuries of rhetorical theory to identify trends in intellectual and literary culture; her core texts will not be familiar to many, even to some with distinguished publications of classical ekphraris narrowly and erroneously defined, but Webb is a lively and challenging guide. It should find many readers.' Hermathena 'The argument is neatly and clearly structured, moving from contextualisation and definition to discussion of the Progymnasmata as a genre, before relating ekphrasis to the related concepts of enargeia and phantasia. In conclusion, W. discusses ekphrasis in relation to strategies of persuasion, before going beyond the rather restricted interests and aims of the authors of the rhetorical handbooks to survey some of the implication raised by their use of the term.' Gnomon