In Our Image: The Remaking of Esther in Every Age

Public lecture by Laura Suzanne Lieber (Duke University) during the conference “Characters in Mind: The Migration of Characters in Ancient Jewish, Ancient Christian & Greco-Roman Literature and Art” at the University of Bonn (Germany), 8–10 February, 2023.

Thinking and Feeling like the Ancients? Studying Emotion and Cognition through Reader Response

From a cognitive viewpoint, emotions are, at least in their basic design, a pan-human, universal phenomenon, and narrative in particular is intimately bound up with emotion. If basal embodied mechanisms play a central role in readers’ processing and experiencing of narrative texts, it cannot be denied that reader responses must always be similar in certain respects, even if the readers come from very different times and cultural backgrounds.

Characters in Mind: How Readers Recognize Literary Persons across Narratives

Binge-watching became a habit for my kids and me long before the Covid pandemic. It has already been a few years since the four of us devoured all Shrek movies together in a single weekend, but I remember being amazed that our children, without giving it much thought, recognized among the cast Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and a bunch of other characters they knew from our bedtime readings. What really got me thinking, though, was that my kids recognized Pinocchio, a character they had only ‘met’ during our then recent summer vacation in Italy. Obviously, they still had the little wooden boy in their minds after seeing him several times in souvenir stores.

Cognition and Ancient Characters

A conversation with Koen De Temmerman (Ghent) and Evert van Emde Boas (Aarhus) discussing cognition and ancient characters and their 2018 volume, Characterization in Ancient Greek Literature (Brill).

Conceptual Metaphor Theory, Emotion, and Narrative

A criticism of CMT that I regularly encounter is that its universalizing tendencies efface the cultural specificity of the phenomena it purports to explain. But this is not, I think, a criticism that stands up to scrutiny.A case in point would be the ancient Greek use of various kinds of garment metaphor for a wide range of emotions, but especially shame and grief.

Conceptual blending and historical understanding in Polybius

Scholars often characterise Polybius’ way of writing as clunky, heavy-going and unsophisticated. I fundamentally disagree with this assessment, which reflects stereotypes and prejudices about the decline of Greek literature and style after the ‘classical’ period. In this short entry, I will show that more attention to Polybius’ style, encouraged by cognitive approaches such as conceptual blending, opens up new perspectives on how this fascinating author conceived of the process of historical understanding.

Blending in Pindar

The quintessentially dense ancient Greek texts of the lyric poet Pindar (ca. 518-437 BCE) cannot be conceived, performed, studied, and taught without the basic human ability to create and understand networks of blends. Blending happens whenever we unconsciously connect conceptual counterparts and integrate them, so that new meanings emerge. Identifying blends not only helps us make sense of Pindar (‘Pindar’ metonymically stands for ‘Pindar’s poems’), but also of our blending-based thinking in general