The Mirror Of The Self: Sexuality, Self-knowledge, And The Gaze In The Early Roman Empire

Paperback | October 24, 2014

byShadi Bartsch

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People in the ancient world thought of vision as both an ethical tool and a tactile sense, akin to touch. Gazing upon someone—or oneself—was treated as a path to philosophical self-knowledge, but the question of tactility introduced an erotic element as well.  In The Mirror of the Self, Shadi Bartsch asserts that these links among vision, sexuality, and self-knowledge are key to the classical understanding of the self. 

Weaving together literary theory, philosophy, and social history, Bartsch traces this complex notion of self from Plato’s Greece to Seneca’s Rome. She starts by showing how ancient authors envisioned the mirror as both a tool for ethical self-improvement and, paradoxically, a sign of erotic self-indulgence. Her reading of the Phaedrus, for example, demonstrates that the mirroring gaze in Plato, because of its sexual possibilities, could not be adopted by Roman philosophers and their students. Bartsch goes on to examine the Roman treatment of the ethical and sexual gaze, and she traces how self-knowledge, the philosopher’s body, and the performance of virtue all played a role in shaping the Roman understanding of the nature of selfhood. Culminating in a profoundly original reading of Medea, The Mirror of the Self illustrates how Seneca, in his Stoic quest for self-knowledge, embodies the Roman view, marking a new point in human thought about self-perception.

Bartsch leads readers on a journey that unveils divided selves, moral hypocrisy, and lustful Stoics—and offers fresh insights about seminal works. At once sexy and philosophical, The Mirror of the Self will be required reading for classicists, philosophers, and anthropologists alike.

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People in the ancient world thought of vision as both an ethical tool and a tactile sense, akin to touch. Gazing upon someone—or oneself—was treated as a path to philosophical self-knowledge, but the question of tactility introduced an erotic element as well.  In The Mirror of the Self, Shadi Bartsch asserts that these links among visi...

Shadi Bartsch is the Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics and the Program in Gender Studies at the University of Chicago. She has served as the editor of Classical Philology and is the author of several books, including, most recently, Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s “Civil War.”

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:312 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.1 inPublished:October 24, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022621172X

ISBN - 13:9780226211725

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
 
1. The Mirror of Philosophy
The Incentive to Virtue
The Index of Vanity
The Mirror of the Soul
 
2. The Eye of the Lover
Ancient Optics
Eros and the Eye
Ovid's Narcissus
Hostius Quadra
 
3. Scopic Paradigms at Rome
Under the Imago
The Penetrating Gaze
Senatorial Safeguards
The Philosopher's Body
 
4. The Self on Display
Seneca's Witness
The Philosopher's Theater
The Metamorphosis of Persona
 
5. Models of Personhood
The Second-Order Self
Rethinking Reflexivity
Medea's Meditatio
 
References
Index

Editorial Reviews

"[A] thoughtful and thought-provoking study. And although the triad of sexuality, self-knowledge and the gaze seems a somewhat awkward partnership at times . . . the work as a whole offers some valuable new insights into ethics, erotics and optics in the ancient world."