Just to look at all the shining bronze here, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven: Seeing bronze in the ancient Greek world
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CitationNagy, Gregory. 2016. "Just to look at all the shining bronze here, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven: Seeing bronze in the ancient Greek world" Classical Inquiries. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Classical_Inquiries.
AbstractIn Odyssey 4, as soon as the young hero Telemachus arrives as a visitor to Sparta, home of king Menelaos and his queen Helen, he feasts his eyes on all the shining splendor of their royal palace. As he takes it all in, he cannot resist saying out loud that he has never before seen anything quite so dazzling. Here is how he says it: “just to look all the shining bronze here, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” Well, he doesn’t quite say it that way, and I will soon show the way he really says it, quoting and then translating the exact words. But the way I just dramatized what Telemachus says comes very close, in everyday English, to his own wording in the original Greek of Homeric poetry, which focuses on the gleam of the bronze as his very first impression. In the Homeric passage that I will soon be quoting, what first catches the young man’s eye is in fact all that shining bronze he sees, and then it’s the gold, then the electrum, then the silver, and finally the ivory. In this essay, I too will focus on the shining bronze. There is something special about bronze, the way it shines, especially when it reflects the light of a brightly shining sun. It’s as if the light that comes from the surface of the bronze were not really a reflection of light coming from some other source. No, it looks as if the light came directly from the bronze. That is in fact the impression you get from reading Homeric poetry, where khalkos ‘bronze’ is described generically as nōrops ‘shining’ (νώροπα χαλκόν, Iliad 2.578, etc.). As you read this poetry, you get the impression that this splendid metal is somehow streaming light from inside itself. As I say, it looks as if bronze did not reflect light coming from elsewhere. Rather, it looks as if the bronze interacted with such light, turning on or off its own light whenever the interacting light turned itself on or off. And it is exactly such an impression that I hope to explore in my essay here, which is about the visual power of bronze as it works its way into the imagination of ancient Greek verbal as well as visual art.
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