College of Arts and Sciences

Ancient Studies

Miniature and Minor: An ancient studies Conference at Indiana University


“‘I Was Small Among My Brothers’: Psalm 151, Scribal Minutiae, and Scripture in
Eva Mroczek, Indiana University, Jewish Studies and Religious Studies

This paper investigates how one “minor” psalm and its scribal minutiae— in three contexts, the Hebrew Dead Sea Scrolls, 5th century Greek Bibles, and medieval Syriac manuscripts—help shed light on the development of the scriptural imagination in antiquity.

Psalm 151, placed in the mouth of David, begins: “I was small among my brothers, and the youngest in my father’s house.” Just as its narrator was small among his brothers, so this composition occupies a marginal status among the psalms: it is not found in the rabbinic Jewish canon, but appears in a Qumran manuscript, and it is included in Greek and Syriac Bibles as an additional composition marked as “outside the number” of biblical psalms.  And yet, the psalm’s superscriptions in both Greek and Syriac manuscripts ascribe it to David himself, connecting it to his battle with the giant Goliath. Psalm 151, then, is considered authentically inspired and “Davidic,” but not “biblical.” Some scribes enumerate it as part of the Book of Psalms, while others exclude it from the collection “proper.”

Considering this liminal psalm together with its “minor” scribal paratexts—superscriptions, subscriptions, and enumeration—gives us a window into the conceptual world of Jewish and Christian scribes. How did they imagine the boundaries of Scripture and their own work of collection and preservation? How do their notations testify to continuity and change in the way Scripture was conceived and bounded in these three linguistic, religious, and historical contexts? While no sense of Scripture as a coherent entity is present in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the later Greek and Syriac traditions have a stronger sense of biblical boundaries. Ultimately, however, these boundaries remain ambiguous, and all these traditions imagine authoritative writings as incomplete and scattered–-a conclusion with major implications for the study of how texts and canons function in religious communities. 

“Minor Episodes in Thucydides’ History: Narrative Design and Historical Function”
Sara Forsdyke, University of Michigan, Department of Classical Studies

We are accustomed to thinking of Thucydides as the historian of big ideas, particularly the grand political concepts that are the basis of modern neorealist political philosophy. We also think of Thucydides as the author of what has become known since the 19th century as “scientific” history, that is, history that utilizes an objective approach to evidence, and one that is disdainful of the subjective, emotional or irrational. Thucydides’ historical writing, we often conclude, is focused on the great individuals and events that shaped the past, and universal “laws” of politics and war.

This paper asks what happens when we look at Thucydides’ historical masterpiece from the perspective of the minor rather than the major episodes? Thucydides recounts many minor episodes in the slow progress of the war, and there are many minor figures and minor speeches throughout the work. Why does Thucydides recount these episodes and what function do they play in his narrative design? Do these episodes destabilize the perspectives and themes of the major figures and episodes of the history, or are they simply mini-renditions of the larger themes of the work?

This paper will attempt to answer these questions by examining specific minor episodes including Thucydides’ mini-ethnography of Thrace (2.95-101); his account of the mythical background to the conflict between Ambraciots and the men of Amphilochan Argos (3. 105- 116); the enslavement and sale of Hyccarian captives by Athenian soldiers in Sicily (6.62, 7.13); and the brutal attack by Thracian mercenaries on village of Mycalessus (7.27-31). 

“Imitation, Emulation, Innovation: Artistic Exchange in the Minor Arts in the
Hellenistic World and Rome”
Julie Van Voorhis, Indiana University, Department of the History of Art

Beginning in the early modern period and codified by the academic academies in 17th and 18th century Europe, the discipline of art history was organized into a hierarchical order on the basis of material and genre.  At the top of this hierarchy are the “fine arts” of architecture, painting, and sculpture.  All other art is classified as “minor”, a somewhat pejorative term that is often used interchangeably with “decorative.” The distinction drawn between the fine and minor arts, and the hierarchies that this distinction implies, did not, exist in classical antiquity.  Nevertheless, the distinction between the fine and minor arts informs art historical scholarship on Greek and Roman art, which privileges architecture and sculpture (and painting, inasmuch as it survives).  Within this art historical model, artistic influence runs from high to low:  large-scale bronze and marble sculptures influence the appearance of small terracotta statuettes; monumental painting informs red-figure vase painting.  While there is some truth to this model, there are other artistic dialogues between artists working in different media that suggest a different, more complex, and more interesting set of stories.  This paper will focus on the relationships between vessels made in different media – bronze, silver, terracotta and glass – in order to determine patterns of artistic influence.  While there are certainly clear instances of imitation with the goal of creating a more affordable product for a less affluent patron, many of the works seem to have been made as demonstrations of skill, which are emulative and at times competitive.  In these cases, the traditional “top-down” direction of influence does not necessarily apply.  Thus, the visual dialogues between vessels made from different materials can shed light on the influences, relationships, and practices of Hellenistic and Roman artists.

“Minor in the Shadow of Major: Non-Major Aspects of Ravenna’s Art”
Deborah Deliyannis, Indiana University, Department of History

Ravenna is famous for having been the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then the Ostrogothic kingdom, then the Byzantine exarchate of Italy.  Its magnificent churches contain some of the best-preserved and most diverse mosaics to survive from the fifth and sixth centuries, produced under the patronage of figures such as Galla Placidia, Theoderic, and Archbishop Maximian.  Much scholarly attention has been focused upon these figures, these time periods, and the mosaics.  But what about the interstices?  For example, during the period 450-489, Ravenna was at the center of dramatic political changes; how did these impact its monumental history?   And beyond mosaics and monumental stone sculpture, what was happening artistically in Ravenna in this period?  Can Ravenna have been a center for some art forms but not others?  This paper will consider some of these questions, to see how the prioritizing of certain eras and media has marginalized others.

“Scale Scriptitious: The Concentration of Divine Power in the Ancient Near East”
Scott Noegel, University of Washington, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

In my presentation, I shall apply the theoretical and comparative insights of three figures who have studied miniatures (i.e., Gaston Bachelard, Susan Stewart, and John Mack) to three Near Eastern writing systems: Mesopotamian cuneiform, hieroglyphic Egyptian, and the alphabetic script of ancient Israel. I shall argue that contextualizing the early scripts as miniaturizations explains the ontological and performative dimensions that the early literati associated with them. I also shall contend that when viewed in this context, the Hebrew script marks a point of departure away from miniaturization, and that as a result, Israelite priests held very different ontological conceptions concerning their script. In the final portion of my talk, I shall look briefly to the micrographic texts of Ketef Hinnom and Qumran in Israel and examine them against the backdrop of my previous observations.

“Good Things in Small Packages: Miniature and Minor in Late Antique Ivory Diptychs”
Sarah Bassett, Indiana University, Department of the History of Art

This paper addresses the topic of miniature and minor through an examination of one of late antiquity’s most characteristic groups of objects, ivory consular diptychs.  43 diptychs survive from the period before 542, the year in which Justinian suspended the consulship: the earliest dates to 406 the latest to 541.  Commissioned by ordinary consuls in commemoration of their entry into office at the new year, the ivories were presentation objects that commonly showed a double portrait of the office holder together with an inscription stating name and titles.

By virtue of this iconography the diptychs may be understood within the larger category of honorific sculpture, but at the smaller end of the spectrum with measurements for individual panels, no two of which are precisely the same, hovering around 30 by 13 cm.  Thus, the ivories perform the antithetical feat of presenting a monumental topic, the dignity of consular office, in miniature scale. They do so by following what appear to be standard expectations surrounding the iconography of consular office.  Thus the miniature consuls that populate the ivories share the same dress and attributes as their monumental colleagues on display in the public gathering spaces of such imperial centers as Rome and Constantinople.   Where they differ is in the matter of style.    While monumental portraits opt for clarity of form, the diptychs, far from being a miniaturized version of their life-size counterparts, show a distinct preference for crowded, complex display.  This paper will examine this preference, arguing that it represents a deliberate aesthetic strategy designed to complement and enhance subject matter.

“The Roman Ceremonial Statuette”
Brian Madigan, Wayne State University, Department of Art and Art History

The statuette is one of the most plentiful material survivals of Antiquity, but often survives without details of context or function. As a result they rarely figure prominently in discussions of that visual culture. However, one particular category of statuette as employed in the Roman world does allow for a more complete picture. These were statuettes that functioned in processions and public ceremony, where the smaller size of a statuette provides for the necessary mobility. The earliest evidence indicates that such ceremonial statuettes were in use in the period of the Republic. But the visual evidence first becomes prominent under the Julio-Claudian dynasty with the grafting of the old cult of the Lares onto the new imperial cult. A pattern emerges from this visual evidence which provides a picture of the statuettes, how they were handled, and who was responsible for carrying them. In Rome and around the empire the evidence for these statuettes indicates that the pattern holds throughout the imperial period, and into Late Antiquity. The textual evidence that can be coordinated with the visual also suggests that these statuettes functioned not simply to establish the god’s presence at the ceremony, but also to preserve or promote important iconographic types before the public.

“Callimachus, Twombly, and the Poetics of Childhood”
Mark Payne, University of Chicago, Department of Classics

My paper investigates the relationship between minority and materiality as a way of theorizing practice in poetry and painting. By minority, I mean childhood as a legal condition that precedes adult responsibility, and my point of departure is an asymmetry in the theorization of childhood in the verbal and the visual arts. Whereas minority in the verbal arts typically theorizes the capacities of child mind, as a receptivity or power of the imagination that is lost to the ordinary adult, but retained by the poet, minority in the visual arts theorizes certain kinds of gesture and certain modalities in the appearance of art’s material. My concern will be to consider whether the relationship between minority and materiality in the visual arts is transferable to the verbal arts. Does it make any sense to think that there could be a child-like materiality to a poem, rather than a child-like conception that precedes the poem? I pursue this line of inquiry by way of two case studies: Cy Twombly in painting, and Callimachus in poetry.

“Is the Biblical Esther a Minor Character?”
Martien Halvorson-Taylor, University of Virginia, Religious Studies

This paper considers the character of Esther and her place in the biblical book that bears her name. The book of Esther explores the vicissitudes of existence in Diaspora and is taken to be an early example of the genre of the Jewish novel. While reception history and a number of recent scholars have extolled the character Esther as the quintessential “Jewish Heroine,” as many ancient and modern interpreters argue that, in the novel’s narrative arc, Esther plays only a supporting role to her guardian, Mordecai. By examining the literary features of the early Jewish novel and the various editions of the book of Esther (two Greek, one Hebrew), I will argue that the book of Esther bears a number of indications that she was indeed originally conceived of as a minor character: Esther appears late and departs the novel early; her speech is enigmatic, her motives inscrutable. Her minor status may also be construed by an appeal to the canonical Hebrew context of her novel, since she is not mentioned elsewhere and her speech, place, and action bear uncanny and productive similarities to a number of minor and marginal women in the wider Hebrew Bible. The novel, however, leverages Esther’s minor status for major theological gain—and thus Esther’s position has wider implications for the literary construction of gender, diasporic identity, and the developing genre of the biblical novel.

“Minor Characters in Homer’s Iliad” 
Jonathan L. Ready, Indiana University, Department of Classical Studies

Taking my lead from Alex Woloch’s study of minor characters in the realist novels of Austen, Dickens, and Balzac (Princeton 2003), I explore the strange space occupied by the Iliad’s minor characters. I focus on those characters who fall in battle to the poem’s major heroes.

Homer has various ways to make a character minor, such as through processes of obscuring or typification or by focusing on a specific body part. By making a character minor, the poet signals that we need not attend to him. Yet, efforts to construct a character as minor—that is, to stress the need not to pay attention to him—actually result in that character displacing another from our attention or drawing attention to himself.

This paradox appears in the brief backstory about a warrior presented at the moment of his death. Many such passages obscure the warrior behind stories about family members or typify him by making him representative of a theme, such as “death far from home.” At the end of these passages, however, Homer reactivates the scene’s protagonist (the killer) by introducing him in a manner consistent with his introduction of characters who, out of the spotlight entirely, are appearing again. In short, in constructing a character as minor, these passages shift attention from the scene’s protagonist.

Additional proof of the disruptive effects of minorness comes in scenes in which a part of a warrior’s body comes apart. Noting scholarly reactions to these passages, we see how the fragmented warrior captures the audience’s attention.

These passages accentuate the narratological complexities that arise in Homer’s depiction of minor characters. In turn, that complexity has implications for our understanding of Homeric characterization and of Homeric poetry’s concern with narrative status.