You are cordially invited to this talk hosted by the Department of English Language and Literature:
“Philomela’s Cloth: Ekphrasis, Expression, and Empathy”
Dr. Daniel Armenti
Thursday, May 4, 2023, 17:30, Room G-160
Abstract: The classical myth of Philomela was a popular subject of medieval reception. Vernacular adaptations of her story focused on the barriers faced by a survivor of sexual violence, but also on the barriers faced by the authors of those texts in retelling the story, and by the readers in understanding of them. At the heart of this story, its versions in the text of the Metamorphoses and in its medieval adaptations, lies the difficult relationship between the survivor, the narrator, and the audience, and the limits of authority granted to each of them in the performance of the text. Through the example of Philomela’s cloth, we see an ekphrastic moment grant a traumatized subject the opportunity to re-establish authority over her own experience, despite appropriation by the author/narrator. In this myth, the audience is told that Philomela, silenced by her assailant, weaves a cloth to be sent to her sister, detailing the assault. Although we are given a description of the methods by which she created the cloth – her use of red thread to sew words onto the white background – we are not given a detailed description of its contents, other than that it faithfully represents the story as it had unfolded up to that point. Ovid’s choice to decline the ekphrastic moment solves an issue of authority in the telling of Philomela’s assault that was raised by the narrator’s telling of the event in the frame text: by introducing the art object (the cloth) in the narrative but not repeating that narrative, it leaves Philomela’s own authority untouched by the complications of his own appropriation of the story and his inadequate expression of her trauma.
Speaker Bio: Daniel Armenti is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the College of the Holy Cross. His primary areas of research include gender, sexuality, and power in the literature of the Middle Ages, with a focus on the reception and adaptation of Latin classical literature. He is co-editor of Women’s Lives: Self-Representation, Reception and Appropriation in the Middle Ages (University of Wales Press, 2022) and is associate editor for the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Women’s Writing in the Global Middle Ages (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021-2026).