Pathos at Oraibi: What Warburg Did Not See

Freedberg, David A.

On May 1, 1896 Aby Warburg saw the Hemis Kachina dance at Oraibi, the ancient and remote Hopi pueblo on Third Mesa in the was below Tuba City in Arizona. Though Shongopovi was settled a little earlier, twelfth-century Oraibi is probably the oldest continuously inhabited place in the United States. The date on which Warburg saw the dance is not often recorded in the voluminous literature on the lecture he gave on the Serpent Ritual some twenty- seven years later – and this is just the least of the many strange omissions and distortions in the history of what has become a landmark in the intellectual history of the twentieth century.

Warburg’s lecture is fraught with the tension between between paganism and classical culture, and with the implications of this tension for the human soul. It is unresolved in its view of the psychic and cultural resonance of the rational versus the irrational. It is full of the then modish preoccupation with the relations between Athens and Alexandria -- that is, between classical civilization and its roots in something wilder and less restrained. Underneath it all lies Warburg’s anxiety about what he felt to be the tragic split between man’s need for distance and his lost and irrecoverable ability to control nature directly.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Published Here
April 7, 2010


Published as "Pathos a Oraibi: Ciò che Warburg non vide," in Lo sguardo di Giano: Aby Warburg fra tempo e memoria, ed. Claudia Cieri Via and Pietro Montani (Turin: N. Aragno, 2004), pp. 569-611.