Mirrors and Mirroring from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period
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Mirrors and Mirroring from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period

Maria Gerolemou, Lilia Diamantopoulou, Maria Gerolemou, Lilia Diamantopoulou

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eBook - ePub

Mirrors and Mirroring from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period

Maria Gerolemou, Lilia Diamantopoulou, Maria Gerolemou, Lilia Diamantopoulou

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About This Book

This volume examines mirrors and mirroring through a series of multidisciplinary essays, especially focusing on the intersection between technological and cultural dynamics of mirrors. The international scholars brought together here explore critical questions around the mirror as artefact and the phenomenon of mirroring. Beside the common visual registration of an action or inaction, in a two dimensional and reversed form, various types of mirrors often possess special abilities which can produce a distorted picture of reality, serving in this way illusion and falsehood. Part I looks at a selection of theory from ancient writers, demonstrating the concern to explore these same questions in antiquity. Part II considers the role reflections can play in forming ideas of gender and identity. Beyond the everyday, we see in Part III how oracular mirrors and magical mirrors reveal the invisible divine – prosthetics that allow us to look where the eye cannot reach. Finally, Part IV considers mirrors' roles in displaying the visible and invisible in antiquity and since.

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Ava Shirazi

One of the most curious reflective surfaces in Greek thought is Plato’s explicit comparison of the human liver to a mirror in the Timaeus.1 The liver-mirror is a crucial mechanism in Timaeus’ account of the embodied soul, a discussion which substantiates on the Republic by making the body a vehicle for the tripartite psyche. The characteristics and hierarchies within the soul, as outlined in the Republicreason, spirit, and appetite – remain the same.2 Each part, however, is assigned to a particular section of the body.3 The rational and immortal part of the soul rules from atop, in the head. The spirited part is situated close by, just below the neck and above the diaphragm. The appetitive part (also the most disruptive) is fittingly placed far from reason, below the diaphragm and around the digestive system. The organs, such as the heart, the lungs, and more importantly, the liver, assist reason in leading and communicating with the inferior mortal parts of the soul.
The spirit is the most cooperative and the second in command. The appetitive part of the soul is the rebel of the group; or rather (in Timaeus’ own words) the ‘wild beast’ (θρέμμα ἄγριον) that causes turmoil and clamour (θόρυβον καὶ βοὴν) in the body (70e).4 The appetite is especially choleric (in both senses of the word). It neither understands the discourse of reason nor has the instinct to pay heed to it, even if it could. It does however pay attention to visual forms of communication. Images (in the forms of eidōla and phantasmata) enchant (ψυχαγωγεῖν) the appetite night and day.5 Therefore, in order to keep the appetite under control, the gods needed a surface on which the rational part of the soul could communicate with (or at least affect) the appetitive part of the soul through images. Thus, they created the liver.
That the liver can function as a visual, let alone reflective, surface is curious enough. What makes this idea even more extraordinary is Timaeus’ rich sensory description of how these images are produced and in turn perceived:
… as a plot against this,6 the god contrived the form of the liver and positioned it in the living quarters of that part [of the soul], making it compact, smooth, and bright, possessing both sweetness and bitterness, so that the force of the thoughts coming from the mind upon it [i.e. the liver], as though upon a mirror that accepts visual impressions and produces perceivable reflections, could scare it. And whenever it uses a part akin to the liver’s bitterness, it forcefully conveys its threats, and quickly permeating the entire liver, it displays bile-like colors, and contracting the liver, it makes it entirely shriveled and jagged, bending and contracting the lobe, the receptacle, and the gates from an upright position, and blocking up the other passages and shutting them close, it produces pain and nausea. However, when a certain gentle breath from thoughts paints opposite phantasms, it produces a rest from the bitterness by wishing to neither move nor fasten upon the nature opposite itself, using on it the sweetness innate within it, and restoring all of it straight, smooth, and unencumbered; it makes the part of the soul placed around the liver gentle and happy, amusing itself at night fittingly, consulting the powers of divination in its sleep, since it does not share in reason or judgement.
… τούτῳ δὴ θεὸς ἐπιβουλεύσας αὐτῷ τὴν ἥπατος ἰδέαν συνέστησε καὶ ἔθηκεν εἰς τὴν ἐκείνου κατοίκησιν, πυκνὸν καὶ λεῖον καὶ λαμπρὸν καὶ γλυκὺ καὶ πικρότητα ἔχον μηχανησάμενος, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῷ τῶν διανοημάτων ἡ ἐκ τοῦ νοῦ φερομένη δύναμις, οἷον ἐν κατόπτρῳ δεχομένῳ τύπους καὶ κατιδεῖν εἴδωλα παρέχοντι, φοβοῖ μὲν αὐτό, ὁπότε μέρει τῆς πικρότητος χρωμένη συγγενεῖ, χαλεπὴ προσενεχθεῖσα ἀπειλῇ, κατὰ πᾶν ὑπομειγνῦσα ὀξέως τὸ ἧπαρ, χολώδη χρώματα ἐμφαίνοι, συνάγουσά τε πᾶν ῥυσὸν καὶ τραχὺ ποιοῖ, λοβὸν δὲ καὶ δοχὰς πύλας τε τὸ μὲν ἐξ ὀρθοῦ κατακάμπτουσα καὶ συσπῶσα, τὰ δὲ ἐμφράττουσα συγκλείουσά τε, λύπας καὶ ἄσας παρέχοι, καὶ ὅτ’ αὖ τἀναντία φαντάσματα ἀποζωγραφοῖ πρᾳότητός τις ἐκ διανοίας ἐπίπνοια, τῆς μὲν πικρότητος ἡσυχίαν παρέχουσα τῷ μήτε κινεῖν μήτε προσάπτεσθαι τῆς ἐναντίας ἑαυτῇ φύσεως ἐθέλειν, γλυκύτητι δὲ τῇ κατ’ ἐκεῖνο συμφύτῳ πρὸς αὐτὸ χρωμένη καὶ πάντα ὀρθὰ καὶ λεῖα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐλεύθερα ἀπευθύνουσα, ἵλεών τε καὶ εὐήμερον ποιοῖ τὴν περὶ τὸ ἧπαρ ψυχῆς μοῖραν κατῳκισμένην, ἔν τε τῇ νυκτὶ διαγωγὴν ἔχουσαν μετρίαν, μαντείᾳ χρωμένην καθ’ ὕπνον, ἐπειδὴ λόγου καὶ φρονήσεως οὐ μετεῖχε.7
In this remarkably dense passage (only one sentence in the Greek), the liver-mirror explains the complex relationship between our physical and psychological experiences, such as fear and pain, tranquility, sleep and even divine inspiration. We can make a crucial observation from the start: according to the Timaeus, reason communicates with appetite primarily through the senses. Reason creates sensory impressions for the appetite to see and feel. These impressions are visual (εἴδωλα, φαντάσματα), but they are also qualified and experienced through other sensations such as touch, taste, and feelings of pain, nausea, and restfulness. To use Lorenz’s (2006) turn of phrase, the communication between reason and appetite is based on ‘non-rational cognition’, that is, it is a form of communication based on the senses.8
In what follows, I hope to explicate how the mirror informs the visual and other sensory experiences presented within this passage. In other words, why did Plato turn to the mirror for a device of sensory communication between reason and appetite? To fully understand Plato’s liver-mirror as a sensory mechanism, however, we first need to understand the significance of the liver before and during Plato’s time. Therefore, I will first turn to an important overlapping, yet distinct, discourse on the liver in the archaic and classical periods: the practice of hepatoscopy.

The Liver-Mirror

While the Timaeus associates the liver primarily with the inferior appetites of the soul, as well as with symptoms such as pain and fear, it at the same time bestows upon it a divine honour by identifying it as the organ of divinity. Immediately following his description of the liver-mirror quoted above, Timaeus re-orients the source of the images, as if to redeem the role of the liver (and the appetite) in our bodies. He explains that the lesser gods, remembering the order of their father, the original craftsman, rectified the vile part of us – i.e. the appetite – by establishing the organ of divination, the liver, within it so that it too may have some hold on truth. What then follows is a meditation on the practice of divination, which once again concludes with the statement that the liver was situated in this region for the sake of divination (χάριν μαντικῆς).9 The liver, therefore, becomes a reflective surface for both the images of reason and the images of the divine.
While Timaeus’ association of the liver with divination may seem separate from the liver-mirror mechanism, it is in fact the most fitting cultural link between the liver and the mirror. By identifying the liver as an organ of divination, Plato is explicitly referring to the Greek practice of hepatoscopy, while at the same time, rewriting the tradition for his own philosophic purpose.
Hepatoscopy, the interpretation of animal livers for divine signs, was one of the most important practices of divination in Greek culture, though most scholars believe that the practice began in Mesopotamia and then moved westward towards Greece.10 Some of our key sources for the practice are model livers, made of either clay or bronze – the latter also being the exclusive material out of which Greeks made mirrors. The models are generally inscribed with what seem like instructions as to what regions of the liver represent favourable or unfavourable omens. With the models dating as early as the eighteenth century BCE,11 we can note that the liver, long before Plato and long before the mirror,12 was an important visual surface on which images were interpreted. Model livers, moreover, indicate an interest in how images could be studied on man-made material objects. Interestingly no such model livers have been found in the Greek world.13 And the surviving evidence for how the Greek exactly practiced hepatoscopy is scarce and quite vague. Thus, while we cannot reconstruct the exact details of the practice, the extant evidence reveals the importance of the visual quality of the liver, such as the smoothness and brightness of its surface, as well as how changes in texture, colour, and form could represent divine signs.14
Perhaps one of the most important sets of evidence regarding the Greek practice comes from the iconography on Attic vase paintings, where we actually see a depiction of the liver and the way in which its surface was both a visual and tactile focal point in practices of hepatoscopy.15 Such depictions are rather formulaic in their representation.16 At the centre of the images, we find the same representational elements: a young boy carrying a mass of entrails, which he then presents to a hoplite to interpret. Sometimes, the entrails are accented with the colour purple,17 and at other times, the entrails are marked with incisions or black-lines. The presentation of the young boy vis-à-vis the hoplite is a constant in all the extant images, while the figures on either side change, though even then within a set pattern: we see either an older man or a foreigner on the side of the young boy while a woman or other members of the army stand on the side of the hoplite; often, there is a dog accompanying the men.18
The sacrificial entrails – the form of which look quite like and are often identified as the liver – are always in the centre of the image and the point to which all eyes and bodies turn. The significance of the liver, moreover, is...

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