Touch and the Ancient Senses  book cover
1st Edition

Touch and the Ancient Senses

Edited By

Alex Purves

ISBN 9781844658725
Published November 22, 2017 by Routledge
230 Pages

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Book Description

Unlike the other senses, touch ranges beyond a single sense organ, encompassing not only the skin but also the interior of the body. It mediates almost every aspect of interpersonal relations in antiquity, from the everyday to the erotic, just as it also provides a primary point of contact between the individual and the outside world. The essays in this volume explore the ways in which touch plays a defining role in science, art, philosophy, and medicine, and shapes our understanding of topics ranging from aesthetics and poetics to various religious and ritual practices. Whether we locate the sense of touch on the surface of the skin, within the body or – less tangibly still – within the emotions, the sensory impact of touching raises a broad range of interpretive and phenomenological questions. 

This is the first volume of its kind to explore the sense of touch in antiquity, bringing a variety of disciplinary approaches to bear on the sense that is usually disregarded as the most base and obvious of the five. In these pages, by contrast, we find in touch a complex and fascinating indicator of the body’s relation to object, environment, and self.

Table of Contents


Introduction: What and Where is Touch?

Alex Purves

1. Hands Know the Truth: Touch in Euryclea’s Recognition of Odysseus

Silvia Montiglio

2. Touching, Proximity, and the Aesthetics of Pain in Sophocles

Nancy Worman

3. Aristotle and the Priority of Touch

Rebecca Steiner Goldner

4. The Duality of Touch

David Sedley

5. Getting to Grips with Classical Art: Rethinking the Haptics of Graeco-Roman Visual Culture

Verity Platt and Michael Squire

6. In the Body of the Beholder: Herder’s Aesthetics and Classical Sculpture

Helen Slaney

7. The Contaminating Touch in the Roman World

Jack Lennon

8. The Touch of Poetry in the Carmina Priapea

Elizabeth Young

9. In Touch, In Love: Apuleius on the Aesthetic Impasse of a Platonic Psyche

Giulia Sissa

10. Noli me tangere: the Theology of Touch

Catherine Conybeare

11. Losing Touch: Impaired Sensation in Greek Medical Writings

Rebecca Flemming

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Alex Purves is Professor of Classics at the University of California Los Angeles, USA. She is the author of Space and Time in Ancient Greek Narrative (2010) and co-editor, with Shane Butler, of Synaesthesia and the Ancient Senses (2013), published in this "Senses in Antiquity" series. Her most recent book, Homer and the Poetics of Gesture, is forthcoming.


"Purves' volume provides a powerful corrective to sight as the preeminent sense in Classical scholarship. As each essay demonstrates, touch blurs the boundaries between subjective and objective experience in providing what Purves calls a "feeling for the past." This volume is required reading for scholars interested in the relationship between perception, cognition, and affect in interpreting ancient texts and artifacts." 

- Karen Bassi, University of California Santa Cruz, USA

"Touch and the Ancient Senses provides a useful introduction to this changing area of the field ... this study is often fascinating and it contains many seeds for further discussion ... an elegant overall structure, with Aristotle’s problem as a thread running from the first sentence of Alex Purves’ introduction to the last sentence of the final chapter. This is an appropriate frame for a topic that puzzled philosophers and physicians throughout antiquity."

- Kenneth Silverman, University of Florida, USA, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018