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Gerald F. Else Lecture: Pindar’s Material Imaginary: Dedication and Politics in Olympian 7

Thursday, November 13, 2014
12:00 AM
Hussey Room, Michigan League

The talk will consider Pindar’s pervasive analogizing of his epinikia to precious wrought objects, as well as his frequent recourse to the language of the erection and inscription of dedicated monuments for his own poetic activity (this is what I mean by Pindar’s “material imaginary”).  In addition to the usual reading of these concrete images as a means by which Pindar asserts the immortalizing power of his poetry, I want to try to resituate Pindar’s metaphorical objects within a phenomenology of ancient religious art, considering the power and active agency believed to inhere in such objects in their interaction with human subjects.  I suggest that these Pindaric objects participate much more than has been acknowledged in ancient perceptions of the magical or talismanic qualities of statues and other forms of religious art.  Having developed this argument in the first half of the talk, I focus in the second half of the talk on a particular case study—that of Olympian 7.  For here, we may have a poem that was commissioned and composed with the explicit intention of being set up as a lavish dedicatory monument.  I will argue that we can track Pindar’s consciousness of such a material, dedicatory purpose for this particular epinikion inscribed within the text itself.  I will then (finally) consider the political implications of such a real-world materialization of Pindaric song.

Leslie Kurke is Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Poetics of Social Economy (Cornell University Press, 1991), Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece (Princeton University Press, 1999), and Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose (Princeton University Press, 2011), as well as co-editor (with Carol Dougherty) of two volumes of essays on “cultural poetics” in ancient Greece.  Kurke has wide-ranging interests in ancient Greek literature and cultural history—in particular, in the complex interactions of literary texts and material practices, and in the politics and sociology of literary form.