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Corpus Christi Seminar Series Michaelmas 2019


Phantasia before phantasia


Series: Wednesdays, 5-6.30pm

Seminar Room, Corpus Christi


Conference: Saturday 7th December, 2-5.30pm

MBI Auditorium, Corpus Christi


What does it mean to imagine before ‘the imagination’? In this series, we will look at a range of sources from Classical Athens - dramatic, material, historical, rhetorical, philosophical. We will explore early models and processes of phantasia - imaginations and impressions discussed and represented within ancient sources, as well as those developed and received by writers, artists, performers, viewers, audiences, and readers.


Weekly series:


Week 8: Wednesday 4th December.

Emily Clifford (Oxford).

They do it with Mirrors: Reflections on/of Death and Painted Pots.


Week 8: Conference on Saturday 7Th December:




Professor Verity Platt (Cornell).

 Knowledge, Matter and the Indexicality of the Classical Impression.

This paper explores the use of the seal-ring metaphor in philosophical models of sense perception and knowledge acquisition from Democritus to the Stoics. Drawing on Friedrich Kittler’s notion that ‘The only thing that can be known about the soul or the human are the technical gadgets with which they have been historically measured at any given time’, it examines the material, aesthetic and technological properties of Greek intaglios, exploring how the seal’s ability to transmit images between media allowed it to serve as an interface between matter and mind. Rather than employing philosophical texts as a means of interpreting material culture, it takes seriously the idea that models of knowledge, memory and imagination are themselves only made possible by the material artefacts that enabled such abstract processes to be conceptualised.

Professor Naomi Weiss (Harvard).

 Seeing and Feeling Prometheus on the Tragic Stage.

This paper explores how the visceral discomfort and thrill of watching a body in pain is fundamental to the phenomenology of tragedy. Using Prometheus Bound as a case study and taking my impetus from work in Theater Studies on the mutual implication of performers’ and audiences’ bodies, I show how Prometheus’ tortured body is materialized through its somatic impact on all who see it. Both he and Io are explicitly hard to view, for spectator-characters within the drama as well as spectators in the theater; they are, as the chorus says, dustheatos. But they are also center-stage spectacles, and their presentation in this play reveals how fifth-century tragedians pushed to the limit theater’s ability to make spectatorship a painful—as well as pleasurable—experience.

Dr Ava Shirazi (Princeton).

Phantasia and the Impossible Image.

In a well-known passage from Republic X, Socrates draws an analogy between a painter and a mirror-holder, an immediate and instantaneous producer of images, in order to devalue the significance and complexity of the mimetic arts. Mirroring, then, emerges as a straightforward and banal mode of representation and visualization. Starting with this controversial passage, this paper rethinks the “mereness” of reflectivity in classical thought, as instantiated by Republic X—that is that reflection is only a (lesser) copy of that which it represents—by showing that reflection instead both amplified the world and was imagined to generate that which was not already visually present: to reflect the seemingly impossible images of the soul, logos, and the divine. By turning to the material world of the bronze mirror and other instances of mirrors in the Platonic corpus (e.g. the Timaeus), I show how in the classical period reflectivity went beyond indexicality and that rather than being a neutral medium of transmission, mirrors revealed the imperceptible world of reason, divination, and the imagination.


Response: Professor Jas' Elsner (Oxford). 




Organisers: Emily Clifford ( and Xavier Buxton ( Please feel free to contact us with any questions. All welcome.

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