In Greek literature the words physiognomy and ekphrasis never occur together: the first occurrence of the noun physiognomonia is in the Hippocratic corpus, namely in Epidemics 2.5.1, a treatise dating back to the end of the fifth century BC; while for the first technical occurrence of ekphrasis as a description of “persons, animated and inanimated things, occasions and places” we have to wait until much later: it occurs only in the first century AD, in the preliminary exercises for the training of orators, the Progymnasmata of the Alexandrian sophist Aelius Theon. We have, for sure, plenty of texts dealing with physiognomy from the Homeric epoch onwards, and we have, also from Homer onwards, ecphrastic texts describing persons, animated and inanimated things, occasions and places. This means that both practices – that of physiognomy and that of ekphrasis – exist in Graeco-Roman literatures much earlier than, and independently from, their explicit theorization. One could even go further and say that physiognomic and ecphrastic passages occur throughout Greek and Latin literature, and that their importance lies in the rhetorical effect they produce on the audience, not in the theories that have been conceived in order to explain them. Still, we face a major problem: can we associate at all the two practices of physiognomy and ekphrasis? This is a tricky question, since we do not have texts that problematize physiognomy and ekphrasis in the same context, or that establish an explicit relationship between them. What we do have is a series of texts from Aristotle to the Second Sophistic in which physiognomical and ecphrastic matters are treated in a way that makes plausible, in not altogether likely, the existence of a reciprocal connection between the two issues. Passing in review this evidence would exceed the limit of a paper: I will therefore focus on the first group of texts that deal with physiognomy and ekphrasis, written either by Aristotle or by his immediate pupils, and with texts roughly belonging to the philosophical and rhetoric movement of the Second Sophistic. We shall see that both groups of texts tackle on the one hand ecphrastic issues that square with the theoretical requirements of physiognomy, on the other physiognomical matters that seem to entail an ecphrastic mode of description. The working hypothesis of this paper shall be, then, that physiognomy is in itself an ecphrastic practice grounded in rhetorical theory, and that, conversely, the ecphrastic description of persons relies to a great extent on the empirical data of physiognomical analysis.
|Titolo:||Pathos, Physiognomy and Ekphrasis from Aristotle to the Second Sophistic|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2019|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||02.01 Contributo in volume (Capitolo o Saggio)|