Panel: Classics, Archeology, Language

David Turnbull, To Talk of Many Things, Of Stories, Ships and String, of Connections, Collaborations, Knowledges and Kin

Until recently the narrative of how Homo sapiens and their ancestors left Africa, extending themselves in space and time has largely been a terrestrial one. There is now an increasing body of evidence for early seafaring by hominims that may exceed 140,000 years BP. Including a maritime dimension to the narrative of hominim movement raises fundamental issues in understanding the development of hominim socio-cognitive and technical capacities. Some archaeologists such as Leppard and Cherry taking a strong representationalist/cognitivist approach have argued that such early seafaring could not have occurred and could only have become possible from around 50,000BP, because a socially and technically complex activity like seafaring requires planning, abstraction, fully syntactical language, and a fully working memory. The paper argues that taking a performative approach based in embodied cognition and in technologies of connection string and storytelling, provides the conditions for the possibility of the coproduction of social collaboration and technical capacities of boat building and navigation.

Zina Giannopoulou, Suffering, Embodiment, and the Self in Sophocles’ Philoctetes

The Philoctetes (c. 409 BCE) is unique in the Greek tragic corpus for the extreme physicality of its central event: abandoned by the Greeks on the deserted island of Lemnos because of his foul stench and cries which interrupted the religious rituals, Philoctetes suffers attacks of excruciating pain from a stinking, ulcerous sore in his foot. Deprived of companions and resources, he uses his divine bow—Heracles’ gift and the sole means, together with its owner, of capturing Troy—to eke out a meager existence. His wounded foot causes sudden bouts of pain across the space of a hundred lines (730-826): he first tries to hide his pain but then gives voice to it repeatedly until he finally collapses into sleep. Although suffering is present almost by definition in tragedy (Poetics 1452b11-13), Philoctetes makes suffering its explicit subject: the main hero just is suffering or pain incarnate (Scarry 1985, Garner 1994).

In this paper, I look at the ways in which Sophocles constructs Philoctetes’ sense of self out of the material means available to him: his cries and bow. Drawing upon the distinction of the phenomenologist Herbert Plügge between Körper (the physical body observed from outside and subject to biomechanical laws) and Leib (the body as it is subjectively lived, the ground of perception, knowledge, intention, and self-extension beyond the body’s physical boundaries), I argue that Philoctetes’ shrieks of agony foreground his waning Körper, whereas the bow symbolizes his potent Leib, the means by which he transmutes his defeat by the Greeks—his being treated as a dispensable tool—into the double victory of his survival on Lemnos and the anticipated capture of Troy. In this way, Philoctetes overcomes his suffering, which bifurcates the human being into the bodily and the mental (Cassell 2004), and preserves his sense of himself as a hero.

David Wright, Sacred reptiles and native world view: enactive aesthetics and agency in Mesoamerican art

Representations of serpents are ubiquitous in the iconography of pre-Hispanic and early colonial Mesoamerica. Snakes, as well as reptilian attributes combined with other iconic elements, are ubiquitous in verbal and visual expressions of the experience of a sentient cosmos, including the surface of the Earth, the underworld, the heavens, rain, fire, and more. Reptilian attributes were assumed by rulers and priests as manifestations of their sacred status, legitimizing their social and political power. In this paper serpent symbolism is framed in embodiment theory, drawing on concepts developed by scholars over the last 25 years. The evolutionary aspects of the phenomenology of reptiles in the primate mind is relevant to this study, providing insights into the aesthetic impact of Mesoamerican sculpture and painting.

Anila Bhagavatula, Neuroscience of Rhetoric and Poetry

We discuss the contribution of neuroaesthetics and cognitive paradigms to rhetoric in art and humanities and also ask the question of how art and humanities can better help us understand specialization in brain function. These questions will be addressed within the theoretical framework of Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Linguistics, and Cognitive Poetics. An analysis of literary style elements and perceptual symbols will conclude the discussion.