Like a Shadow or Even a Dream: Memory and Haptic Motifs on Classical Attic Funerary Stelai

By Vonne Daszkilewicz

Faculty Mentor: Liane Houghtalin


During the third quarter of the fifth century BCE, Athens witnessed the revival of funerary stele reliefs. Sculpted motifs representing touch and interaction, often situated within familial scenes, characterized the grave monuments and contributed strongly to their tactility. Haptic stele motifs promoted the construction of memory by heightening the depiction of lasting bonds between living and deceased individuals. Grave reliefs provide a lasting representation of the deceased, while also serving as conspicuous reminders of the permanence of death. However, Attic funerary stelai provided a physical substitute for the departed towards which the living could direct their continued care and dedication. This presentation centers on interpreting fourth-century stelai as reflections of haptic imagery’s ability to promote viewers’ engagement. The depiction of grave-visit scenes on white-ground lekythoi, which often represent graveside visitors adorning and touching stelai, strengthens these interpretations. As visitors interacted with stelai at the gravesite, they created continuity between the scenes depicted on the reliefs and their own actions, encouraging a negotiation of their separation from the deceased and an understanding of mortality. Emotional, sensory, and tactile interaction with stelai and their haptic motifs allowed for the development of an enduring bond and lasting remembrance of the deceased.



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