Thursday, February 16, 2012


Luigi Belloni, Alice Bonandini, Giorgio Ieranò, Gabriella Moretti (ed.), Le Immagini nel Testo, il Testo nelle Immagini: rapporti fra parola e visualità nella tradizione greco-latina. Labirinti, 128. Trento: Università degli Studi di Trento. Dipartimento di Studi Letterari, Linguistici e Filologici, 2010. Pp. xvii, 498. ISBN 9788884433619. €15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Julia Valeva, Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (

Version at BMCR home site

This collection of papers, presented at the conference "Text and Images in Greece and Rome", held in Trento on the 9th and 10th of October 2008, is a contribution to the long and ever intriguing discussion about the relationship between text and images in classical antiquity, to which already a long list of publications has been dedicated. In this volume, the problem is discussed on both a theoretical and a documentary level.1

The articles are arranged in groups, dedicated to five main themes: images with inscriptions; the theatre between text and vision; the book between art and literature; the transformation of images within text; and the fortune of the classical authors in later periods.

Two of the articles deal in a more narrow way with visual arts. In "Immagini e canti nel simposio greco: alcuni esempi" Maria Luisa Catoni discusses the relationship between text and image as deduced from analyses of vase paintings. She draws parallels between banquet songs (like skolia) and the images on both sides of vases, suggesting that the two-sided decoration of a vase can be interpreted as an illustration of the competitive singing of improvised songs at banquets. Catoni also concludes that the self-representation of vase painters as participating at aristocratic banquets reveals a new self-consciousness of the artists, their pride as opposed to the pride of the aristocrats.

In "Quisquis ades, Baias tu facis hic animo. Venus et vinum nel sinus Baianus in parole e immagini" Mariette de Vos focuses on the wall painting discovered in 1909 in the nymphaeum of the domus beneath the Santi Giovanni e Paolo basilica. The iconography of the painting includes the figures of Venus (interpreted as a personification of Baiae), Gaurus, the genius of the month during which the white wine was produced, and the Nubenda. The discovery of a similar scene, with the fortunate preservation of the inscription naming the month Gaurus, in a mosaic from Sidi Ghrib, gave the clue to the correct interpretation of the painted scene under discussion and a series of other, similar representations.

The series of contributions dedicated to classical theatre, seen as an archetypal space in which text and image met, begins with Marta Frassoni's, "La fine di Serse. Il modello eschileo e un cratere del V secolo". This gripping discussion of the symbolism of luxurious dress in Greek and Persian contexts explores the place of the mantle (pharos) in two stories: the first, about Xerxes and his brother Masistes as told by Herodotus (IX.108-113), and the second, about the assassination of Agamemnon as represented in Greek drama and in vase painting. The discussion is bound to the historical events of the Greco-Persian wars and specifically to the impression that the booty of Persian luxury objects made on the Greeks. The splendid royal robe, offered to Xerxes by his wife Amestris activated a wave of ferocious events and murders. Likewise, the splendid robe woven by Clytemnestra and thrown on Agamemnon to prevent him from defending himself, became his shroud. In this way the pharos reveals itself as ambivalent, related both to life (royal robe, symbol of status and power) and death.

In "La Parodo dello Ione di Euripide o della funzione dell' 'immagine' in un testo teatrale", Giuseppina Basta Donzelli discusses a fragment from the parodos of Euripides' Ion in which the chorus describes the decoration of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The omission of the names of some of the represented heroes and gods in this same fragment signifies that the Athenians were familiar with myths both in their pictorial and oral interpretations and could understand images on sacred buildings without elucidating inscriptions. The author reminds us that the Gigantomachia as described in the parodos of Ion has contributed to the reconstruction of the west pediment of the Apollo temple in Delphi. Euripides, however, described the scene as decorating the east pediment, a discrepancy that the author explains as purposeful and aimed to estabish a parallel between the victory of Athena over the Giants and the victory of the polis of Athena over the hybris of its enemies.

In the opinion of Onofrio Vox ("Meleagro in interno. La scena tragica e l'immagine su cratere apulo, Napoli Mus. Arch. Naz. 80854") the painter of the crater under consideration was not necessarily dependent on a dramatic text and most probably created his own version of the last mise-en-scène of the Meleager myth. The study accentuates the opposition between inner room and exterior events through analysis of the conflicts within the family of Meleager and the effect of exterior factors (the brand). The opposition between Altea, Meleager's mother, whose life passes at home, "in the interior", according to the "traditional cultural model" and Atalanta, who is active outside like men and with whom Meleager falls in love although already married, is considered by the author as a major cause of his ultimate tragic fate; this conflict within the family was visualized by depicting Meleager in a room (the naiskos), paradoxically because his yearning for Atalanta was a striving for evasion from his responsibility to the genos, from the "interior" of the family.

"La forma del dolore: le immagini vascolari apule relative al mito di Niobe" of Roberta Sevieri is dedicated to the representation of the metamorphosis of Niobe into a crying rock after the horrible punishment inflicted on her by the gods for her hybris. In the opinion of Sevieri the considerable number of representations of this specific type of Niobe in Italian vases should be related to a local revival of interest in the Aeschylean drama Niobe around 360 BC. She explains the popularity of this scene as due to the lack of an iconographic tradition in Italy that depicted the murder of Niobe's children and, accordingly, the stronger impact of theatrical imagery.

The aim of Giorgio Ieranò in "'Bella come un dipinto': la pittura nella tragedia greca" is to approach the problem of the relationship between theatre and visual arts from the point of view of the influence that the latter exerted on imagery in dramatic texts. Paintings and sculptures, along with public recitations and theatre, are viewed as media of access to the "mythological encyclopedia" (as the author puts it) for both Athenian public and dramatists. Ieranò cites passages from tragedy (mainly Aeschylus and Euripides), where painting is mentioned and argues that pictorial interpretations of myths were both known to the public and eventually evoked associations.

The third series of articles is centered on the influence that visual arts had on literature, with emphasis on poetry (the epigrams of Martial, the idylls of Theocritus) and Philostratus.

In "Teocrito: arte e letteratura", Adele Teresa Cozzoli aims to reveal through the poems of Theocritus the increasing complexity of the relationship between art and literature in the Hellenistic period. More than once Theocritus himself demonstrates his interest in visual arts. The analysis of his fifteenth idyll illustrates the pursuit of a poetic language that is realistic, pliable and "pictorial", like painting or sculpture. The fifth idyll of Theocritus is the subject of the contribution of Luigi Belloni ("Un secchio di legno ed un cratere di Prassitele. Citazioni metaletterarie nel V idillio di Teocrito (Theocr. V, 104-15)"), which focuses on the erotic connotations of two contrasting objects, the humble wooden bucket and the precious silver crater created by Praxiteles.

The relationship between word and image is treated by Gabriella Moretti on the basis of Martial's "Xenia" and "Apophoreta" in which she maintains a persistent interest. Both texts are considered to be like ekphraseis. The elegant verses of Martial are compared to still life (natura morta) since they are organized in thematic series, dedicated (in this case) to food and objects. The relationship between the still life genre and ekphrasis is demonstrated through the typological series of objects that exist both in visual arts (e.g., in mosaics) and in epigrams.

In "Tra letteratura e arti figurative: le Imagines dei due Filostrati" Maria Cannatà Fera compares the series of essays of Philostratus the Elder and Philostratus the Younger, focusing on the parallels in their choices of subjects. Her careful analysis leads her to support those scholars who have expressed doubts that the descriptions of both authors reflected real pictures.

The next series of contributions opens with Claudio Meliadò's "L'agone fatale fra Muse e Sirene", in which two texts are examined, the first one a papyrus from Antinoopolis and the second a short poem of Ausonius. The final conclusion is that the three Sirens were gradually transformed into personifications of the music of the lyre, that of the flute, and singing.

In "Immagini travisate. L'arte della deformazione in Lucano", Hans Jürgen Tschiedel argues that, as a result of the highly imaginative language in Lucan's Pharsalia", the characters acquire prominence, but can assume ambiguous meanings as well; in particular, the description of Caesar degrades his image as known in imperial propaganda.

Alice Bonandini's contribution "I disegni del Fato. La rappresentazione delle Parche nell'Apocolocyntosis e in Petronio" draws parallels among the description of the frescoes that adorn the porticus of Trimalchio's house, passages from the Apocolocyntosis of Seneca and some contemporary images. The painting in the porticus is a jumble of iconographic motifs that symbolically illustrate the extraordinary social ascendance of the patron. The most important of these motifs allude to the golden age, longevity, and future apotheosis, however their strong imperial associations lead to parodic effect when placed in Trimalchio's universe. Such motifs are also regularly used in funerary iconography. Thus, the mingling of these different artistic idioms – imperial and funerary – that are not suitable adornment for the house of a living man of humble origins, no matter how rich, stresses the absurdity of Trimalchio's decorative program.

The Ademar Codex, discussed by Caterina Mordeglia in "Leoni 'di carta': ascendenze letterarie e scritturali delle raffigurazioni degli animali esotici delle favole di origine fedriana nel Ms. Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Voss. Lat. 8° 15," is the earliest cycle of illustrations of Phaedrus. Previously, scholars have focused on discovering the models of Ademar's illustrations. The author suggests with good reason that the Bible and the writings of the church fathers could also have inspired the imagination of Ademar, since a monk is likely to have been much more familiar with such texts than with the visual arts.

The last contribution, by Elisabetta Villari, "La fortuna cinquecentesca dell'amphibolia dipinta di Polignoto di Taso nel trattato De sculpturaa di Pompono Gaurico" transports us into the early 16th century when the Italian humanist Pomponius Gauricus edited his treatise On sculpture. In his text the intellectual dignity of the figural arts is recognized through the association of the language of the treatises dedicated to them with the idiom of ancient rhetoric: e.g., the specific notion of amphibolia indicates his interest in perspective through a painting by Polygnotus, mentioned by Pliny (NH 35.27).

In general, most of the contributions in this volume represent new attempts to interpret the meaning of texts and images that have already been the subject of similar efforts, as can be seen from the abundant bibliography. The wide background against which the problems are discussed and the rich information contained both in the text and in the notes, in fact give the status quaestionis for each subject.


1.   I would like to thank Denver Graninger, who kindly agreed to edit the English text of this review.

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