Universiteit Leiden

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Trimalchio ad nauseam: Roman Art as a Tyranny of Bad Taste?

  • Prof. Ruth Bielfeldt (Harvard University)
Thursday 3 March 2016
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden

Trimalchio cannot get his myths right. He confounds the most basic characters of mythology and creates unconceivable narratives. His unorthodox treatment of myths in particular has vexed scholars for a long time. I will use his distorted tales as a starting point to critically reassess Trimalchio as a literary figure, discuss the principles of aesthetics and taste at work in the Cena, and eventually take a fresh look at the mythological wall paintings from the House of the Vettii (Pompeii). Are excess and mishmash always bad, or does Trimalchio’s desire to turn the world into an over-stuffed dish offer a key to a different understanding of Roman art?

Ruth Bielfeldt teaches courses in the art and archaeology of the Classical world. Her research can be divided into three major topics: the iconology and hermeneutics of Greek and Roman art, especially funerary art (see Orestes auf Römischen Sarkophagen, Berlin 2005), ancient urbanism in, for example, Pompeii and Pergamon, and the field of “thing studies”. The volume Ding und Mensch in der Antike. Gegenwart – Vergegenwärtigung (Heidelberg 2014) focuses on the agency of objects and applies phenomenological approaches to ancient material culture. Currently she is writing a book on Roman bronze figural lamps, and leading a multidisciplinary project that aims to establish a new theoretical framework for figural Roman bronze implements integrating aspects of matter, functionality, design and ambience. Finally, she has been involved in excavation projects at the sites of Androna/Al-Andarin (Syria) and Pompeiopolis (Paphlagonia).

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