Alexandra Pappas

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20052006 Forum on Word and Image

Alexandra Pappas



Alphabetic Image in Ancient Greece

The earliest known examples of the ancient Greek alphabet reveal its intimate association with the visual arts. Dr. Pappas exlores the evolving relation between ancient Greek literary and material worlds spanning the 8th–1st centuries BCE, including vivid poetic descriptions of physical objects, physical objects decoratively inscribed with poetic verses, and the competitive relation between author and artisan. 


As this study highlights, the Greek alphabet was inherently visual. Inscriptions on vases and sculptures from the archaic period (8th–6th c. BCE) communicate through their legible meaning and their appearance simultaneously. Euripides and other playwrights from the 5th century BCE placed letters and words on the stage as a visual spectacle, to be seen both in the mind's eye and in the round. And, in the 3rd century, hellenistic poets invented a new poetic genre, the technopaegnia (epigrammatic pattern poems), which created both poem and image on the page. Treating these alphabetic images as "graphic art," Dr. Pappas challenges the distinctions between ancient Greek word and image and argues that the ancient alphabet was used for image-making and traveled fluidly between literary and material worlds.