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Objects of Pity: Art and Emotion in Archaic and Classical Greece


This dissertation investigates the relationship between art and emotion in Archaic and Classical Greece, particularly the relationship between changes in the cultural values attached to oiktos or “pity” and simultaneous changes in the formal appearance of Greek art. Whereas traditional histories assume that emotional engagement was only made possible with stylistic developments in the fifth century, I argue that a cultural mode of viewing works of art through an emotional lens was cultivated already in the sixth century. By promoting encounters with art objects as emotionally similar to real life experiences, this mode of viewing made art look more real by compelling viewers to treat works of art as having intellectual and psychological agency.

While the focus of this dissertation is an historical account of how emotions affected the production and viewing of funerary monuments in Archaic and Classical Greece, the structural model it develops for studying the relationship between art and emotion has broader applications. At the heart of this project lies the question of how an individual’s sense of emotional subjectivity is inscribed within artistic and cultural practice, and how works of art themselves constitute a form of emotional practice that can shape that sense of subjectivity. Confronting Greek art through questions of emotional engagement allows me to reframe standard narratives and open up new ways of thinking about the cultural work of sculpture, and art more generally, in Archaic and Classical Greece.

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