An Exploration of the Function of Lamps in Archaic and Classical Greek Culture: Use, Concepts, and Symbolism

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An Exploration of the Function of Lamps in Archaic and Classical Greek Culture: Use, Concepts, and Symbolism

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Title: An Exploration of the Function of Lamps in Archaic and Classical Greek Culture: Use, Concepts, and Symbolism
Author: Mihaloew, Andreya
Citation: Mihaloew, Andreya. 2012. An Exploration of the Function of Lamps in Archaic and Classical Greek Culture: Use, Concepts, and Symbolism. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Scholarship on Archaic and Classical Greek lamps has traditionally been in the form of typological studies and catalogues. This dissertation represents an alternative to such works, offering a fuller picture of the function of lamps in Greek life. Incorporating archaeological, iconographic, and literary evidence, the study takes a gendered approach to lamp use, examines the objects’ social and symbolic functions, and explores their conceptual place in Greek society. The core of the dissertation consists of three main chapters. Chapter two looks at women and lamps. It begins with an examination of the opening lines of Aristophanes’ Ekklesiazousai, and then assesses women’s lamp use in the home, where the objects helped women perform tasks ranging from early-morning baking to genital depilation. Their use by women at Athens during funeral processions is also considered. Indeed, women and lamps were closely linked during these periods. The objects came to symbolize domesticity and, by association, femininity. They also helped to create and perpetuate female stereotypes, and could be instrumental in controlling women’s behaviors. Women’s conceptions of their lamps grew from use: they saw them as quiet companions and perhaps emblems of burden. Chapter three investigates male lamp use. Lamps and their stands played a role in civic and private dining. They functioned on many levels within red-figure representations of the symposium, and these images offer clues about lamp use at actual symposia. When carried by individuals for street lighting, lamps facilitated travel in the dark while marking the social status of their users. Many literary references suggest that men connected the objects with the concept of exposure, of matters private as well as political, an idea connected to the objects’ use and symbolism in the female arena. Chapter four explores the significance of lamps in the contexts of burial and religion. To a certain extent, the association between women and lamps observed in the home obtained in these spheres, especially in graves on Sicily and in cults of female deities. The study and its findings expand our understanding of uses and perceptions of an often overlooked class of objects, and of gender and social dynamics in Archaic and Classical Greece.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10288831
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