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Graduate Research Seminars: Orpheus Then and Now: Looking/Feeling Backward

Dr Robert Mills (University College London)
When Feb 20, 2013
from 05:00 PM to 07:00 PM
Where History of Art Graduate Centre, 4a Trumpington Street
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The sense of sight is crucial to the denouement of the Orpheus myth: the hero’s inability to rescue Eurydice in the underworld is associated, in the most influential accounts, with a forbidden backward glance. But Ovid’s Metamorphoses supplies further details about Orpheus’ biography following this fatal act of retrospection: the hero subsequently turns his desire from his beloved wife to ‘tender’ males. In this paper, I stage a dialogue between medieval and modern responses to Orpheus’ pederastic turn as narrated by Ovid. How did the motif of Orphic pederasty get taken up by some clerical writers and artists in the Middle Ages? Why has the motif receded into oblivion in contemporary reflections on the myth – even when, in some instances, Orpheus is appropriated as a representative of ‘queer’ historical experience and affect? Focusing especially on illustrations of the legend in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscript illuminations and woodcuts, I will also raise questions concerning role of backwardness and backward looking in the history of sexuality.

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