Seth Estrin

Assistant Professor, Classics and Art HistoryUniversity Of Chicago

Award Information

2014 IDRF Program

ClassicsUniversity of California, Berkeley

Objects of Pity: Art and Emotion in Archaic and Classical Greece, c. 520-380 B.C.E.

My dissertation investigates the relationship between the increasing realism of art in Greece in the 5th c. B.C.E. and contemporary shifts in the cultural role of the emotion of pity. I argue that as innate human empathy for both other humans and for material objects was increasingly politicized in the form of pity, and as the definition of who could feel pity and under what circumstances was increasingly clarified, pity emerged as a powerful cultural agent that depended on visual, but not physical, interaction. In this way, artists worked hard to modify their creations so as to make them match cultural expectations – to make them more pitiable. The special ability that figurative art appears to have held in the 5th c. to provoke pity speaks to a cultural understanding that figurative art was particularly good at articulating the relationship between individuals and the world around them. In order to carry out this project, I propose to take up the position of Associate Member at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens for nine months. My research will take place in museums and archaeological sites in Athens and more widely in Greece, and Athens will additionally serve as a base for trips to specific collections elsewhere in Europe. Direct access to the wide array of archaeological material included in my dissertation – including sculptures, vases, inscriptions, and architecture – is crucial for my research, which will attempt to show how fine-grained aspects of works of art revealed in visual analysis are configured so as to be especially pitiable according to ancient understandings as revealed in textual sources.