All pneumatic machines – including the Ctesibian machine and the famous ancient machines built for entertainment purposes, such as singing birds and hydraulic organs – conveyed potentially fundamental questions related to the constitution of matter (of the elements). In a world that had no concepts such as, for example ‘pressure’, the explanation of the functioning of pneumatic machines was not trivial and required continuous investigation of the characteristics and constitution of matter. Obviously, this sensitive issue is at the fundament of every worldview. Such questions, and others related to them, were eventually faced by practically oriented Hellenistic scientists, and the traces of their ensuing scientific debates can be followed over the centuries up until the foundation of modern mechanics in the seventeenth century. Until now, ancient pneumatics has been investigated either concerning just its theoretical consequences, for example, in reference to the work of Hero of Alexandria, or in reference to its social meaning, as a symbol of power in ancient culture. Building on the results of these previous scholarly investigations, the way in which such technology circulated during antiquity will be investigated in order to map the technological innovations and contextual conditions that led to the significant outcomes following the emergence of new scientific knowledge. The analysis of archeological findings and of primary sources related to pneumatics – the fundamental sources – will be utilized to develop this investigation.
The widespread circulation of balances, steelyards and the corresponding technological and metrological knowledge is connected more with the development of ancient markets and the instruments, directions and dynamics of their import and export activities, rather than to mechanics itself. The circulation of this technology, however, led to the emergence of standards employed during measuring activities, as happened with the development of metrology, and the foundation of mechanics related to the circulation of the steelyard. However, no attempt has ever been made to carefully map the circulation and employment of balances and, in particular, of steelyards. Even less investigated are the meta reflections on such mechanical devices that were achieved possibly earlier than the fourth century BCE and that constituted a first theoretical input leading to the formulation of the most ancient law of mechanics. The investigations to be accomplished within the frame defined by the subject “Balances, Steelyards and the Foundation of Mechanics” aims to achieve a map of the circulation of early mechanical devices from the perspective of technological innovation and an analysis of the first meta reflections on these innovations.
Besides the sources directly connected to the history of mechanics, such as the Problemata, the sources that need to be analyzed in this context are the literary Greek sources, both from the perspective of technology transfer and as well the development of ancient markets, focusing in particular on the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
Objectives of the project
The media-specific conceptualization and encoding of fundamental categories of human world perception and orientation has only recently received new attention from archaeologists, historians, classicists, anthropologists, and other scholars of ancient cultures. It is, however, of great importance to allow for the systematic distinction between various kinds of cognition and their relations to different symbolic systems like pictures, languages, and gestures with their respective semiotic qualities.
In my previous research on body concepts and gender difference (“soma / corpus. Bodily Concepts and Gender Difference in Greek and Roman Culture”) I aimed to show how differently the human body was constructed by pictoral and linguistic discourses in Greek and Roman culture. In both cultures, the body served as a place in which the primary social differences, such as age, class, and gender, were inscribed, although differently in each case. Remarkable variations can be detected between the general conceptions of the body: Overall, the Greek saw the body as a three-dimensional, functional unity, extending itself into the surrounding space, while the Roman body, although endowed with considerable performative qualities, was in a way deficient, rendered flat, without volume, the clothes hiding and disguising the subjacent body parts. In addition, in Latin not all limbs were denoted with clearly delimitating terms. Interestingly, the notions of a very concrete and tangible Greek body and a volatile and abstract Roman body have left traces both in the respective languages and artistic representations.
The present Topoi-project also combines theories of Visual Studies, Cognitive Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology and aims to analyze the culture- and media-specific modes in which Greek and Roman images function with regard to aspects of spatial perception, spatial cognition and spatial constructions. The main focus of research is addressing questions of how ancient cultures rendered three-dimensional space and objects within two-dimensional media. What kind of rules of perspective can be recognized within these images and what kind of semantic value can be attributed to a specific spatial composition? What are the relations between the pictorial conventions of spatial representations and human world perception? What mechanisms of spectator-subject construction or effects of subjectification can be observed? Are there any cognitive interconnections between pictorial and linguistic strategies of spatialization, especially regarding the spatialization of orders of knowledge and mental categories? How did certain cultural techniques shape spatial cognition and vice versa? Can we therefore account for culture-specific cognitive styles of spatial thinking?
The systematic analysis of selected works of art is carried out on two different levels: First, from a long-term diachronic perspective, focussing on genre-specific conventions of spatial representations in Greek vase paintings, Greek and Roman wall paintings or relief sculpture. Pictorial strategies of hierarchization and categories of spatial order are of special interest, particularly if they can be traced back to extra-pictorial cognitive domains. Second, a couple of case studies will provide a more in-depth analysis of iconographic, stylistic and compositional elements and could point to the semantization of certain spatial phenomena in different periods of ancient art history.
By examining the spatial terminology of Ancient Greek and Latin within the framework of Language Typology, General Linguistics, Historical Semantics and Cognitive Linguistics, culture- and epoch-specific habits of seeing may be detected. This can open access to a cognitive dimension which is narrowly linked to everyday practices of spatial orientation and exploitation. Both the picture and the language analysis would profit from a broader cross-media and cross-cultural approach.
One aim of analyzing the pictorial monuments is to formulate an alternative to the explicitly or implicitly teleological model of traditional art history. This model states a process of gradual approximation to (quasi) central perspective compositions in the course of the history of Graeco-Roman art. Therefore it seems necessary to examine cross-culturally the different strategies for rendering three-dimensionality in two-dimensional media. It seems especially interesting to compare the different usage of spatial elements, such as diminution of size in depth, overlapping and clustering of figures, multiplication of viewpoints, combinations of top views and frontal representations, bird’s eye view, parallel perspective, foreshortening, etc., most of which are prevalent to various degrees in Egyptian, Near Eastern, Anatolian, Greek, Roman and Roman provincial art. What aesthetic values and semantic aspects can be connected with these methods of evoking the illusion of spatiality? Are there any differences? Which objects and figures were usually rendered in which manner and what qualities were ascribed to these objects by representing them in different kinds of perspective compositions? Even though some Egyptian or Neo Assyrian pictorial compositions seemingly show comparable solutions when depicting human beings, animals, objects, architectural elements, or landscapes—avoidance of figural overlap, usage of vertical dimension indicating the front-behind relation between objects, phenomena of transparency, additive combination of multiple object faces (‘Wechselansichtigkeit’), perspective of importance—the similarity to early Greek images might be superficial and limited to individual pictorial elements. Perhaps those differences also apply to cognitive frames and conceptual schemas within those respective cultures.
The study of a representative sample of pictorial monuments has also to take into account that multiple, i.e. genre- and content-specific modes of spatial representations existed simultaneously in a single cultural context. As B. Kaeser showed in his important study on geometric, archaic and early classical vase paintings, the development towards increasingly complex spatial representations cannot be understood as an attempt to achieve a more ‘naturalistic’ rendering of space. In fact, the main intention of the vase painters was to emphasize selected functional qualities of objects. Generally speaking, in early Greek art the spatial relations of objects to each other seemed to be more important than their orientation to an implicit spectator. Only from Classical times onward does the viewing subject become a point of reference. The simultaneous occurrences of perspectival and non-perspectival manners of representations therefore do not imply the incapacity of the artist but must be explained on a semantic level. A further illustration of the semantic character of spatial elements is provided for instance by artistic products of Roman provincial art. Pictorial monuments of the capital Rome are already characterized by the concomitance of a picture language deriving from Hellenistic traditions, where ‘realistic’ proportions and a coherent perspective prevail, and completely different formal tendencies, which once were labelled as ‘folk art’ by art historians. This side-by-side of different spatial solutions is even more complex in the artistic productions of the periphery of the Greek and Roman world (i.e. Egypt), where spatiality and dimensionality obviously were considered as the epitome of Greek manufacture.
Possible points of intersection between visual and linguistic conceptualizations of space might be found in the field of abstract cognitive categories, which determine not only certain linguistic locative expressions but also the disposition of spatial elements in pictorial compositions. It could be shown that not only directional relations and topological configurations of objects, such as coincidence, containment, contact, support, and contiguity, motivated perspectival representations, but even more so functional qualities and gestalt properties—above all relations of power and causation. If these functional aspects were important stimuli for artistic innovation in early Greek art, it is remarkable that similar cognitive categories have an impact on the spatial expressions of certain languages, especially in the usage of locative prepositions. It remains to be determined whether this is also true for Ancient Greek and Latin. Complementary to the analysis of pictorial monuments, a diachronic study of Greek and Latin expressions for static and dynamic spatial configurations could therefore provide information about linguistic peculiarities. What features of spatial terminology are characteristic for Greek and Latin? What elements contrast both languages with other languages? Which social practices shaped the cognitive domain of spatiality in different languages? Where are homologies and differences between visual and linguistic phenomena to be found and how can they be explained?