Theses Doctoral

Act as Attribute: The Attacking Body in Ancient Greek Art

Peebles, Matthew

An image of the body in the act of attack might be taken as an inherently episodic or narrative motif, due to the apparently transitive nature of the movement involved. Such a categorization is challenged, however, by an array of ancient Greek images that distance the attacking figure from a temporal context, as by the elision of an explicit victim; such images betray the attacking body’s “iconic” aspect, which is underlain by the efficient communication of symbolic values linked to the identity of the subject. This dissertation surveys the development of the iconic motif of the attacking body across diverse media, from its cross-cultural origins in the Bronze Age to its reformulations in the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic eras. In doing so, it tracks the codification of value-rich attacking “schemata” (recurring poses) in the representation of particular identities, including warriors, athletes, and various divinities, among others. Integrating the social-symbolic model of gesture and the body that has emerged across academic disciplines with a generally (though not exclusively) semiotic approach to the ancient imagery, the study elucidates key continuities in the significance of the motif as it appears in multiple forms and across an intriguing range of iconographic and functional contexts. Ultimately, it builds an argument that in a society in which the exertion of violence was central to the performance of status and the construction of power, the visual motif of the attacking body was critically linked to the figuration of human and divine identity: the “act as attribute.”


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Mylonopoulos, Ioannis
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2019