Between Norm and Nature: Visual and written concepts of motherhood in classical Athens

The mother is a highly emotional subject combining a multitude of cultural concepts whilst at the same time assuming an almost archetypical role.

Project No. G 312

Viktoria Räuchle

The mother is a highly emotional subject combining a multitude of cultural concepts whilst at the same time assuming an almost archetypical role. This interrelation between uniformity and diversity makes the figure of the mother an ideal object for historical research on emotion. This dissertation project aims at reconstructing the specific ideas and terms that governed the perception of motherhood and emotion in ancient Athens.

In order to capture the plurality of maternal conceptions at that time, a variety of visual (vase paintings, votive and grave reliefs) and written sources (tragedies, philosophical and medical treatises) must be collected and interpreted according to cultural historical criteria. This broad selection of information carriers forms the basis for the following questions: In which ways do images and written representations of mothers reflect ancient Athenian society? Or did such representations have a normative effect on the emotional experiences of mothers and/or their environment in antiquity?

In this context the ancient sources seem to reflect the phenomenon of motherhood alongside two conceptual spheres: norm and nature – nomos and physis. Taking into account the constructions of body, sex and gender at that time I will analyse when and why certain aspects of motherhood were considered as culturally constructed or as innate.

Discipline

Classical archaeology

Supervisor

Prof. Dr. Johanna Fabricius

Prof. Adrian Staehli (Harvard University)