Picturing Greek Culture under Rome: Philostratus’ Imagines, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the ‘Pure’ Hellenism of the Second Sophistic
This talk will explore the overlooked cultural-ideological dimensions of Philostratus’ Imagines, an ekphrastic tour-de-force describing paintings purportedly on display in a third-century Neapolitan villa. The text seems to exemplify the purely Greek erudition prized in Second Sophistic culture, and Philostratus invites us to imagine and become an audience of Hellenic-minded Hellenes. Yet for readers familiar with the Latin poet Ovid, irresistible reminiscences of his Metamorphoses complicate the avowed Hellenism of the Imagines. Drawing on key passages from both authors, as well as visual comparanda, I will propose that catching a glimpse of Ovid in one of Philostratus’ ekphrases ensnares the reader in a more than philological dilemma. Has Philostratus himself truly revealed acquaintance with a Latin classic? Or is the reader who speculates about an Ovidian moment as deluded as Narcissus bending over his reflecting pool? How readers answer will depend upon how they picture Greek culture under Rome — and specifically how committed they are to the ‘pure’ Hellenism espoused by the Sophists but called into question by texts like the Imagines.
Carolyn MacDonald joined the UNB department of Classics and Ancient History in July of 2016 after a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of New Hampshire. She specializes in Latin literature and Roman art, and her interests include cross-cultural interaction and appropriation between Rome, Greece, and Italy; the invention and reinvention of Roman cultural memory; and the representation of the city and its monuments in Greek and Latin poetry and prose. She received her PhD in Classics from Stanford.