Imagines II

Seduction and Power

Bristol, October 22-25, 2010



IMAGINES II: Seduction and Power is a major international conference and part in a series, designed and organised between the Universities of Bristol (UK), Lampeter (UK), Heidelberg (Germany) and La Rioja (Spain).

indexIMAGINES II (Bristol 2010) goes beyond the treatment of reception in individual genres and periods, but rather takes specific genres as starting point and goes on to highlight the interconnections between different art forms and their impact on each other. Accordingly, it not only demonstrates the influence of the reception of antiquity on a specific manifestation of culture, but also shows how it shapes culture as such, ranging from post-classical traditional art disciplines to contemporary popular cultural expressions. As a result, IMAGINES not only traces individual representations of antiquity in the arts across history, but further explores the contemporary beliefs, anxieties, ideals and fears projected and immortalised through the imaged past.

IMAGINES now builds on this foundation by concentrating on specific themes. The first such theme, Seduction and Power (Bristol 2010), deals with the tensions and relations of gender, sexuality, eroticism, and power in reception.

Max Weber defined power as the ability of an individual in a social relationship to achieve his or her own will even against the resistance of others. His classification of forms of domination included the ‘charismatic authority’, a form of authority beyond legality or tradition, based on the quality of an individual personality considered to be extraordinary. The power of charisma is a key connecting element to the other focus of our conference, seduction.

After the 1960s, debates on the conceptualization of power have played a relevant role in sociological studies. Foucault’s famous study on the History of Human Sexuality sparked an intense interest in the social construction of sexual behaviour, including the politics of sex. Our approach to the topic explores thus the seductive character of power relationships, which have frequently been associated with concepts such as eroticism and sexuality. Female (and male) seduction, the exotic, despotic domination, perversion, irresistible magnetism, fascinating authority or charisma emerge strikingly in modern and ancient interpretations of human instincts, behaviours and relationships.

Focusses of the conference are e.g. the stereotyping of empowered women as violent, over-sexed and dangerous (the queens Semiramis, Dido, and Cleopatra or Empress Theodora) or the vilifying of “weak” falling prey to them (Marc Antony or Emperor Justinian). Alongside these stand the typecasting of “strong” men as heroes (Spartacus) and of the weakening influence of love on such men (Antinous on Emperor Hadrian), followed by the tantalising in-between, the hermaphrodite.

IMAGINES II: Seduction and Power will deconstruct these traditions and expose the underlying bigger picture. Following from this, it will show how the performing and visual arts interlink to form and transmit these images. Equally, it will highlight conflicting traditions in reception, changing images and their representation in the arts. Thus, it will show how the ancient world still plays the role of effective mirror of basic human behaviour and is used to propagate messages through history.

The thematic frame chosen for IMAGINES II lines up with new trends in Classical Reception Studies exploring gender, sexuality, homoeroticism and universal subjects such as imperialism and empires (see for instance the conference Engendering Reception: From Penelope to Atwood’s Penelopiad, University of Toronto 2010) In analysing the relationships of different notions of power and its receptions in connection with the idea of seduction in different historical contexts and artistic expressions, IMAGINES II provides new perspectives to emerging projects.