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Michael Squire - Early Career Fellow: 'How to read a Roman portrait'? Optatian and the face of Constantine

This talk brings together two research themes: on the one hand, the ‘semantic’ workings of Roman portraits (signa); and on the other the unloved and overlooked ‘picture-poems’ of Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius (writing in the first decades of the fourth century A.D.).
Our subject is a single ‘grid-poem’ that promises to craft within its verses the materialized face of Constantine (fingere… uultus Augusti), and in such a way as to outstrip antiquity’s most celebrated painter (uincere Apelleas audebit pagina ceras). In this gridded poem (so-called carmen cancellatum or Gittergedicht), the colored letters of Optatian’s words purport to visualize the countenance of the emperor: we come face-to-face with a ‘portrait’ that lends itself to (literally!) literal ‘reading’.
But how should we make sense of the schematic form of Optatian’s image? What does the poem reveal about contemporary notions of portraiture? And how to explain Optatian’s abiding fascination with the respective limits of words and pictures?
Michael Squire (Ph.D. Trinity College, 2006) joined the department of Stanford Classics in January 2016. He specializes in Graeco-Roman visual culture, the history of aesthetics, and representations of the body in Greek and Roman art. He is currently Reader at King's College, London.



Monday, January 25, 2016. 05:00 PM


Building 110, Rm 112


Department of Classics




Open and free to general public