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Disparate Bodies in Ancient Artefacts: The Function of Caricature and Pathological Grotesques among Roman Terracotta Figurines

Chapter

Disparate Bodies in Ancient Artefacts: The Function of Caricature and Pathological Grotesques among Roman Terracotta Figurines

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... The notion that these items were teaching aids for medics has mostly been discredited, due to the grotesques' general lack of anatomical accuracy and their position, style etc. which is not conducive to anatomical study (Masséglia 2015;Trentin 2015). Instead, most scholars agree that the grotesques' function was apotropaic (Garland 2010;Kelley 2007;Masséglia 2015;Mitchell 2013;Trentin 2015;. This suggests that the items were imbued with qualities that prevented harm, bought good luck and offered protection from the evil eye of envy. ...
... This suggests that the items were imbued with qualities that prevented harm, bought good luck and offered protection from the evil eye of envy. The talismanic attributes of the grotesques have been hypothesised because they were intended to be comical, and laughter was believed to be a defence against the evil eye (Mitchell 2013). This alludes to a Roman predilection for mocking people with visible impairments. ...
... Greco-Roman body ideals have been argued to be the root of prejudice towards people with disabilities in the modern world (Adams 2017). The frequency of hunchbacks in ancient art is not a reflection of the real frequency of this pathological state at the time; instead it is testament to the pervasiveness of the apotropaic belief (Mitchell 2013). Garland (2010) claims that disabled people could have been perceived to have the power to redirect evil because they were believed to be inherently wicked themselves. ...
Thesis
The primary aim of this study is to develop and demonstrate an approach through which human skeletal remains can be used to explore impairment and disability in the past in a theoretically informed way. This study addresses a frequent trope in osteoarchaeological publications in which unusual palaeopathological specimens are investigated as isolated case studies, which are often decontextualised and uncritically presumptive about the resulting disability (Dettwyler 1991). This thesis presents the integrated osteobiography approach; a form of microhistory which aims to develop an understanding of a life experience using osteological data integrated and contextualised with any and all available clinical, historical and archaeological data. The dis/ability as a continuum perspective provided a key theoretical underpinning of the thesis. This view of disability understands that everyone has an aspect of their identity related to their body and its ability to perform as expected and desired in their social and physical environment. This view challenges the commonly held attitude that disability affects a minority of people. The dis/ability as a continuum approach also helps visualise bodies as ever-changing entities, the abilities of which can vary throughout a lifetime (Zakrzewski et al. 2017). The approach also encourages a broader perspective of what is considered a possible impairment, helping to prevent our modern preconceptions of what an impairment is affect our view of the past. Feminist theory has also been highly influential to this thesis, from influencing the theoretical foundation to the communication style. Karen Barad’s (2007) concept of ‘entanglement’, helps visualise dis/ability as one aspect of an individual’s personhood which is interacting and mutually impacting other aspects, such as age and gender. Feminist scholarship has also influenced the author’s use of a situated knowledge approach, which encourages openness and honesty about a researcher’s motivations and experiences surrounding their subject matter, and reflects on how this may impact the study. This integrated osteobiography approach is applied to the 3rd -4 th century cemetery site of Alington Avenue, Dorset, UK, from which 37 skeletons form the dataset. Osteological, mortuary, archaeological and clinical insights are melded together to create the osteobiography accounts. Three of the osteobiographies are selected for inclusion in the main thesis for the stories they can tell. AA766 is a skeleton of a biological female which exhibited Langer type mesomelic dwarfism. This skeleton provided the unusual opportunity to track the well-documented development of an impairment alongside the known life course stages for a Romano-British female, as well as consider the experience of a lived environment from a shorter stature viewpoint. AA852 acquired a trauma necessitating an arm amputation shortly before death. For this case, the concept of the ‘disabled corpse’ was coined, exploring the impact of acquired bodily difference on the burying community and their behaviour. Finally, through skeleton AA210, a more familiar set of palaeopathology is examined and the impact of older age on dis/ability is considered. This case study fulfils the desire to explore the impact of more ordinary palaeopathology alongside the extraordinary, and assesses the potential issues surrounding not being recognised as different or disabled. Partly to help integrate the different data set types and partly to help improve accessibility of the study, three fictive narratives were written, portraying the burial of AA852 at Alington Avenue. These fictive narratives help explore experience of the palaeopathology identified with proper citation in the form of footnotes. The thesis demonstrates how the integrated osteobiography approach can be used to explore dis/ability in the past in a theoretically nuanced manner. Osteobiography has been argued to offer a more democratic vision of the past (Robb et al. 2019). This thesis hopes to contribute to this democratic vision, not only in the people who are studied, but also in the readership encouraged by the more accessible format.
... The fist of a small hand is pressed against the cheek. Similar grotesques are widely documented in the Hellenistic and Roman world (Richter, 1913;Uhlenbrock, 1990c: 149;Aǧtürk & Arslan, 2015: 49-50); and recent scholarship has shown that 'grotesques' cover a broad range of categories and have different functions: actor figurines, caricatures, and pathological grotesques (Mitchell, 2013). Our figurine seems to fall within the caricature type (see discussion below). ...
... The grotesque male head (PHH 32; Fig. 1.14) from the House of Orpheus may represent another testimony to theatrical practices in Cyprus, and indeed to the integration of the island into the broader Mediterranean cultural koine. As mentioned already, recent scholarship has shown that 'grotesques' cover a broad range of categories and have different functions, such as actor figurines, caricatures, and pathological grotesques (Mitchell, 2013). Our figurine seems to fall within the caricature category, the iconography of which may have originated in Alexandria, even if it was embedded in a broad, cross-cultural exchange; and was also commonly found in Asia Minor during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. ...
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The Musée Saint-Raymond holds a statue of Venus crowned with a diadem (inv. Ra 151-Ra 114) in its storage, whose slimness and unusual proportions immediately attract attention.
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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 this his article I explore the connections among the physiological effects of envy, the stereotypes that adhered to old women, and the literary representations of witches in Roman society, arguing that it is possible to get some perspective on healing methods employed by real female specialists.
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In the study of grotesque terracotta statuettes from the Hellenistic Age many questions are yet to be answered, including the ‘identity’ of these figurines. This article aims at giving reference points for the iconographical interpretation of the grotesques. In the first part of the article I collected some circumstances hindering the decipherment of the grotesque terracottas. Then, as the majority of these objects are head fragments broken from the bodies of statuettes, I tried to present details and attributes that may hint at the original meaning of the figurines, even without any knowledge of the missing parts of their bodies. These details include hairstyle and headwear, facial features typical of certain ethnic groups, signs of medical condition, characteristic injuries and features known from the sphere of the theatre.
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