Kurt Raaflaub to talk on Ancient War As Spectacle

| November 25, 2012


Does the statement that war is a spectacle really require an argument? Is it not obvious? Or is war in fact the exact opposite: an “anti-spectacle” because, despite all the noise and excitement, it ends with total destruction and annihilation? Although as movies and TV programs show, too many still get their kicks out of violence and war, more thoughtful representatives of our species have long expressed their doubts in no less spectacular ways: we think of Mahatma Gandhi, who made peaceful protest his principal weapon, or the German expressionist painter Otto Dix whose drastic indictment of the war experience in the trenches of Flanders, though officially rejected as “degenerate art,” still succeeds in breaking down the resistance of our senses, blunted though they are by a constant barrage of horror news and images. The question, this lecture pursues, with texts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greece and Rome, and with a broad range of illustrations, is simple: without guns, rockets, bombs, lasers, airplanes, tanks, and other agents of special effects that characterize modern war, how and why was war in antiquity a spectaculum, or perhaps better, how and why was war made to look as a spectacle, by whom, and for what purpose? Why did people write about war in inscriptions or books or depict war in sculptures, reliefs, or paintings? Topics covered in our examination of this rich and fascinating topic include an army’s departure to war, the battle experience itself, watching the battle, the aftermath of battle, the battlefield as a spectacle, celebrations of victory, the re-enactment of war, the commemoration of the war dead, and the spectacle of an entire war in one work of literature or art.

Conaton Board Room
Saturday, December 1
4:00 pm
Reception to Follow