Ekphrasis, in the modern sense of 'text that represents or evokes a work of visual art', is a tribute to the literary power of images, where the effort of poets to construct an autonomous role for words, overturning their implicit subordination to images, should be noted. Focusing on some epigrams of Martial and Ausonius, we offer some significant example of how the poetics of ekphrasis appears not as a pale reflection of the strength of an image, but as an irreplaceable element of the image, saying something about the image that image per se cannot express. In Martial we often meet the topos that literary arts are superior to visual arts in terms of similarity and duration (see e.g. 7,84; 9,76; 10,32); even more interesting is to note that the poetical exegesis, which accompanies the description of a work of art, is needed to celebrate the image as a 'status symbol’: the little statue of Hercules, owned by Novio Vindex, which is celebrated in Martial 9.43 to 44, could not express per se - despite its visual impact - what the poet says, i.e. the list of the outstanding persons who previously owned it, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Sulla. Therefore the poetry, if it cannot fully represent the beauty of the artwork, nevertheless can tell its history, highlight the artistic and commercial value, and explain the taste and ambition of its owner. This is a case in which the relationship of subordination between cliens and patronus is reversed, similarly to the relationship between verbal art and visual art. Poetry allocates itself in the space typical of re-use and of source-citation; here it finds its autonomy from the figurative realm. The same happens when the poet takes care to explain the meaning of allegorical images with either a real or imaginary artistic reference (the related examples of Posidi. AP 16.275 and Aus., epigr. Gr 12 will be illustrated). Evoking images in verses, which visual art has difficulties to represent - as Ausonius very clearly demonstrates – is another area of autonomy. In his book about his young slave Bissula - ranging between the lyric and epigrammatic genres – Ausonius points out that the girl’s beauty cannot be represented through the artifice of painting, and that neither wax nor colour can reproduce it; while he is able to describe her, giving impossible advices to the painter (mixing lilies and purple roses in order to extract the colour of the air), (Biss. Gr 5). Even more striking is the procedure in epigr. Gr 11: moving from the outcome of the metamorphosis described by Ovid (met. 3, 359 ff.), an artist chose to paint the nymph Echo after she had lost her body and became pure vox. The analysis of this epigram will show the ability of Ausonius to construct an elegant poem, which is entirely independent from the Greek models (see AP 9.27, 16, 153-156), proving the superiority of his verbal art to describe what is invisible.

Mattiacci, S. (2013). Quando l'immagine ha bisogno della parola: riflessioni sulla poetica dell'ekphrasis nell'epigramma latino. PROMETHEUS, 39, 207-226.

Quando l'immagine ha bisogno della parola: riflessioni sulla poetica dell'ekphrasis nell'epigramma latino.

MATTIACCI, SILVIA
2013

Abstract

Ekphrasis, in the modern sense of 'text that represents or evokes a work of visual art', is a tribute to the literary power of images, where the effort of poets to construct an autonomous role for words, overturning their implicit subordination to images, should be noted. Focusing on some epigrams of Martial and Ausonius, we offer some significant example of how the poetics of ekphrasis appears not as a pale reflection of the strength of an image, but as an irreplaceable element of the image, saying something about the image that image per se cannot express. In Martial we often meet the topos that literary arts are superior to visual arts in terms of similarity and duration (see e.g. 7,84; 9,76; 10,32); even more interesting is to note that the poetical exegesis, which accompanies the description of a work of art, is needed to celebrate the image as a 'status symbol’: the little statue of Hercules, owned by Novio Vindex, which is celebrated in Martial 9.43 to 44, could not express per se - despite its visual impact - what the poet says, i.e. the list of the outstanding persons who previously owned it, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Sulla. Therefore the poetry, if it cannot fully represent the beauty of the artwork, nevertheless can tell its history, highlight the artistic and commercial value, and explain the taste and ambition of its owner. This is a case in which the relationship of subordination between cliens and patronus is reversed, similarly to the relationship between verbal art and visual art. Poetry allocates itself in the space typical of re-use and of source-citation; here it finds its autonomy from the figurative realm. The same happens when the poet takes care to explain the meaning of allegorical images with either a real or imaginary artistic reference (the related examples of Posidi. AP 16.275 and Aus., epigr. Gr 12 will be illustrated). Evoking images in verses, which visual art has difficulties to represent - as Ausonius very clearly demonstrates – is another area of autonomy. In his book about his young slave Bissula - ranging between the lyric and epigrammatic genres – Ausonius points out that the girl’s beauty cannot be represented through the artifice of painting, and that neither wax nor colour can reproduce it; while he is able to describe her, giving impossible advices to the painter (mixing lilies and purple roses in order to extract the colour of the air), (Biss. Gr 5). Even more striking is the procedure in epigr. Gr 11: moving from the outcome of the metamorphosis described by Ovid (met. 3, 359 ff.), an artist chose to paint the nymph Echo after she had lost her body and became pure vox. The analysis of this epigram will show the ability of Ausonius to construct an elegant poem, which is entirely independent from the Greek models (see AP 9.27, 16, 153-156), proving the superiority of his verbal art to describe what is invisible.
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