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The Hellenistic turn in bodily representations: Venting anxiety in terracotta figurines

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Ugliness, in a society obsessed with beauty was often feared and mocked, but it could also be used to criticise mainstream values. This was the choice made by Athenian vase-painters of the sixth to the fourth centuries BC. Mass-produced at the height of Athenian democracy, painted vases were an inexpensive and popular artform that offer us an amazing insight into the daily life of the great city. In contrast to other artforms often commissioned or too expensive to fool around with, vase-painters made a liberal use of parody, visual puns, situation comedy and caricature. The study of the visibility of ugliness on Greek vases opens a number of unexpected theoretical and methodological issues which help us better define visual humour in ancient Greece. At least three forms of ugliness were displayed on vases: (1) caricature, an intentional form of ugliness; (2) the inherent ugliness of physical deformity, foreigners, the elderly and the ‘other’; (3) finally, the construction of ugliness both physical and moral through the intrusion of a ubiquitous humorous mythological creature called the satyr in a ‘civilised’ society presents a third pathway to ugliness.
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In der griechisch-römischen Antike waren körperliche Beeinträchtigungen aufgrund von schwierigen Lebensumständen (Krieg, Mangelernährung, Seuchen, harte Arbeit) weit verbreitet, so dass zahlreiche Arten von Deformitäten und Einschränkungen zur Sprache kamen (Laes 2017, 121–138 [Samama]). Neben physischen Handicaps wurden auch psychische, geistige und sensorische Mängel (Blindheit, Taubheit, Stummheit) thematisiert, wobei die Blindheit von Dichtern und Sehern mit speziellen Fähigkeiten verbunden wurde (Rose 2003, 79–94; Garland 2010, 34, 100–101) (s. Kap. 10.1007/978-3-476-05738-9_36). Eine eindeutige Definition für Behinderung existierte nicht und in der Medizin gab es für die ›Heilung‹ von Behinderungen auch kein eigenes Beschäftigungsfeld.
This article examines a number of cases in ancient literature in which a visually impaired individual is equated with the Cyclopes: such an individual might be one-eyed, blind in one or both eyes, or simply have poor eyesight. It suggests several reasons why these mythological figures were utilized in this way and seeks to explain what, precisely, the individuals making these allusions were aiming to accomplish. It seems likely that it was Polyphemus rather than any of antiquity's other Cyclopes that was intended, and while it could have been his single eye that was the prime motivator, it is notable that he is portrayed in different ways before and after his blinding by Odysseus, and aspects of these portrayals could also have been relevant when insulting the visually impaired.