Jackman Humanities Institute
Regina Höschele, Department of Classics and JHI Faculty Research Fellow, 2018-2019
The writings of Greco-Roman Antiquity are full of tales about people falling in love with statues, paintings or other types of images - a condition nowadays known as "agalmatophilia" and characterized as a form of paraphilia by modern psychology. Whether or not there is a kernel of historical truth to any of the incidents mentioned in ancient texts (something impossible to determine), the frequency with which such anecdotes are told in Antiquity in a wide variety of contexts is clearly meaningful, and the idea of image-love has served as a powerful literary motif ever since.
My paper explores textual accounts as well as iconographic representations of sexual intercourse between humans and statues. While ancient texts mostly show us men filled with desire for images of beautiful boys or women (in some cases actually engaging in sexual activities with them), there are also some references to women yearning to satisfy their lust with the help of sculptures. In numerous tales, their desire appears frustrated by the immobility and coldness of the stone, even as the unresponsiveness of the image may further fuel erotic longing. In my talk, I contemplate these anecdotes against the backdrop of ancient sexual discourses, determine underlying narrative patterns and investigate what tales of agalmatophilia may tell us about ancient conceptions of art and beauty.
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