Chapter

Nature and Rhetoric

Henry Maguire

in Nectar and Illusion

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199766604
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199950386 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199766604.003.0002

Series: Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture

Nature and Rhetoric

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  • Ancient and Classical Art (to 500 CE)

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Before iconoclasm, the natural world was celebrated in the many sermons and commentaries devoted to the Hexaemeron, in which the marvels of the created world conveyed, by analogy, the greatness of the Creator. Frequently, these compositions incorporated self-contained ekphraseis of particularly noteworthy elements of creation. But early Byzantine writers could also criticize the world of nature as fleeting and evanescent. In church art during the early Byzantine period, we can find, as in literature, displays of the elements of creation, such as its rivers and creatures. But these motifs also had their critics, as evidenced by a letter written by Nilus of Sinai to Olympiodorus, which rejected this kind of decoration as distracting to the faithful. As in the early period, the post-iconoclastic view of nature was ambivalent, except that now the denigration of nature carried more weight than it had before. The great series of commentaries on the Hexaemeron dwindled. Both in their literature and in their art, Byzantines of the Middle Ages found ways to put nature securely in a subordinate position.

Keywords: Hexaemeron; creation; Olympiodorus; Middle Ages; ekphraseis; Nilus of Sinai

Chapter.  10395 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient and Classical Art (to 500 CE)

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