From Myth to Icon

From Myth to Icon: Reflections of Greek Ethical Doctrine in Literature and Art

Volume: 40
Copyright Date: 1979
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    From Myth to Icon
    Book Description:

    A distinguished classicist examines some of the ways in which certain Greek ethical concepts, especially those related to sophrosyne (self-knowledge, self-restraint, moderation) and the other Platonic virtues, are reflected in mythology, politics and education, oratory, and the visual arts. Helen North considers how the Platonic virtues were regarded, how they affected the understanding of political and social life, how they were embodied in mythical figures and expressed in mythical and historical or semi-historical exemplary accounts, and how they were portrayed in art at certain important stages of their development.

    North moves from archaic Greek myth in the first chapter through the political and rhetorical applications of sophrosyne/temperantia in classical Athens and Rome, which she treats in two central chapters. In the final chapter, concerned chiefly with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, she returns to some of the early myths and exemplary figures and shows how they survived, together with allegories and symbols popularized in the postclassical period, in religious and secular art into the eighteenth century.

    North's aim, as she says in her preface, is to provide "a kind of Ariadne's thread to serve as a guide through the labyrinthine iconography of sophrosyne/temperantia all the way from its beginnings in the coins and sarcophagi of late antiquity to its end in such specimens as the Reynolds window for the Ante Chapel of New College, Oxford, and Canova's tomb for Pope Clement XIV in Rome." Bringing together a wealth of material from many disciplines, From Myth to Icon offers fresh perspectives on the ways in which the Greeks and Romans interpreted ethical ideals.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6680-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 11-16)
    Helen F. North
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. 17-22)
  5. 1 The Mythology of Sophrosyne
    (pp. 23-86)

    Petrarch’s Triumph of Chastity—the second of his six Trionfi—describes the aftermath of a psychomachia between Amore and Pudicizia, a procession in which the triumphant virtue is accompanied not only by a host of allegorical figures representing qualities closely allied with herself, but also by a group of men and women, some mythological in origin, some biblical, some historical, whose connection lies in their common devotion to chastity. The triumphal procession, after leaving Cyprus, the island sacred to Venus, where Chastity has vanquished Love, arrives in Italy at Baiae, near the ancient home of the Cumaean Sibyl, and makes...

  6. 2 Politics and Education
    (pp. 87-134)

    Protagoras the Sophist, in the speech at the house of Callias ascribed to him in Plato’s dialogue, begins, as we did in Chapter 1, with myth. “Once upon a time,” he says, the gods existed, but not yet mortal creatures. He tells how all other living things were created and endowed with the various means of life and survival, and then how Prometheus gave to mankind fire and technical competence (entechnos sophia), which he stole from Hephaestus and Athena. Nevertheless, human beings were still in danger of extinction, because they lacked sophia politikê (political competence), which dwells with Zeus. Hence...

  7. 3 Eloquence
    (pp. 135-176)

    The day-to-day operation of the dominant institutions of fifth-century Athens—the courts, the Assembly, the Council—and of their counterparts in other democratic cities endowed the art of persuasion with steadily increasing influence. If sophrosyne in one of its most prominent aspects is an aretê politikê, a product of the polis, as Chapter 2 suggests, we should expect to find it reflected in the oratory of the period, which is necessarily shaped, in its moral dimension, by the ethics both of the orators themselves and of their audiences. In fact, the speeches of the fifth century, together with the speeches...

  8. 4 The Iconography of Sophrosyne
    (pp. 177-264)

    “Lady Sophrosyne, daughter of great-souled Aidôs,” begins the epitaph of Cleidemus from the Dipylon in Athens, in the fourth century B.C., and “Hail, divine Euteleia, child of glorious Sophrosyne,” writes Crates the Cynic a century later.¹ Starting with Theognis in the archaic age, Greeks of every period personified Sophrosyne and linked her in various ways with a wide range of other abstractions: not only Aidôs (Restraint) and Euteleia (Frugality), but Pistis (Good Faith), the Charites (Graces), Eusebeia (Piety), Hasychia (Quietness), Aretê (Courage), Hagneia (Purity), and Hygieia (Health).² Yet there is no extant representation of her in ancient art, nor does...

  9. Appendix: Unusual Attributes of Temperantia
    (pp. 265-268)
  10. Index
    (pp. 269-281)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-284)