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Classical Association Panel

Discourses of Disruption: The Power of Impoverished Aesthetics 

Classical Association Conference, Swansea, UK

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Elaine Sanderson                 An Unhomely Homecoming: Encounters with the Uncanny in Seneca’s Agamemnon

Nicola Hömke                      A bellyful of honour – the aesthetics of the ugly and the rhetoric of inversion in Pseudo-

                                              Quintilian’s ‘cannibal declamation’ (Decl. mai. 12)

Katharine Stevens                gula est: Power dynamics of self-impoverishment through faked illness in Martial’s


Response by Rebecca Moorman

nequit iram explere potestas.

“Their power cannot satisfy their anger.” (Stat. Theb. 1.623)


After slaying the monster Poine, the Argives in Statius’ Thebaid behold her repulsive corpse, crushing it with stakes and rocks (1.616-23). Despite their dominance, the men feel disempowered and emotionally impoverished: staring at Poine's inert body is empty consolation (solacia vana, 621); dismembering her cannot satisfy their anger. This panel explores such “impoverished aesthetics,” identifying passages in which depleted affects emerge from descriptions foregrounding the abject and small, the mean, ugly and weak, or, in Statius’ case, a lack. Studies following the “sensory turn” often focus, e.g., on the materialism of the sublime (Butler and Purves 2013; Porter 2016; Fitzgerald 2019). Turning away from grand aesthetic states, we extend recent investigations into the poetics of narrowness and inferiority (Rimell 2015; Matzner and Harrison 2019) to explore aesthetic marginalization and its power to disrupt dominant readings of Latin texts. Two papers explore aesthetic renegotiation through the expected (homecoming) and the taboo (cannibalism); a third paper observes appropriations of the aesthetics of illness for social and financial gain. Collectively, the papers elevate to aesthetic consideration the unexpected power of marginal conditions like strangeness, irritation, and disability.




Butler, Shane and Alex Purves, eds. 2013. Synaesthesia and the Ancient Senses. Durham.

Fitzgerald, William. 2019. “Claiming Inferiority: Weakness into Strength.” In Complex Inferiorities, ed. S. Matzner and S. Harrison, 13-28. Oxford.

Kristeva, Julia. 1982. The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon Roudiez. New York.

Matzner, Sebastian and Stephen Harrison, eds. 2019. Complex Inferiorities: The Poetics of the Weaker Voice in Latin Literature. Oxford.

Porter, James. 2016. The Sublime in Antiquity. Cambridge.

Rimell, Victoria. 2015. The Closure of Space in Roman Poetics: Empire’s Inward Turn. Cambridge.

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