Co-Curator of A World of Emotions Professor Angelos Chaniotis Talks to TNH

By Eleni Sakellis

NEW YORK – Co-curator of A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC – 200 AD
at the Onassis Cultural Center, Professor Angelos Chaniotis is a Greek historian and Classics scholar in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

The distinguished professor is an expert in the society and culture of the Hellenistic World and the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, examining subjects related to historical memory, identity, the social dimensions of religion, theatricality in public life, emotions, war, and the relevance of Classical studies in the modern world. His most recent books are War in the Hellenistic World: A Social and Cultural History (2005) and Theatricality and Public Life in the Hellenistic World (2009). He has received many awards, including the Baden-Wurttemberg State Award for Research (2000), the Greek State Award for Literature, in the category Essay (2010), and the Annelise Maier Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2014).

Professor Chaniotis took time from his busy schedule to talk with The National Herald about the writing of the exhibition catalogue that accompanies A World of Emotions.

He told TNH, “The aim of the catalogue, which is written for a non-specialized readership, is to provide basic information on the exhibits (type of object, provenance, representation) and to, directly or indirectly, explain why the object has been included in an exhibitions dedicated to emotions in the Greek world. In the catalogue entries, exactly as in the labels that I wrote based on the catalogue entries, we also try to allow the objects to tell the viewer a small story: how were the objects used? What is their background? What do they show?

Depending on the object, we have three types of entries in the catalogue: long entries for complex objects (250-400 words), short entries (ca. 150-250 words), and epigrammatic entries for objects that belong to large groups. In the latter case, the significance of the entire group is explained, in order to avoid repetitions.

Precisely because we were concerned with the accessibility of the objects to a general, non-specialized audience, we avoid technical terms and tried to have heading that not only briefly describe the object but also briefly refer to the underlying emotion(s) (e.g. Achilles’ Rage in Battle, Dedication to Dionysus who listens to prayers).

The descriptions of objects from Greek museums were written by Greek archaeologists working in these museums. The descriptions of the international loans were written by Dr. Roberta Casagrande-Kim, Assistant Manager of Exhibitions and Publications at the Onassis Center. All entries were reviewed by the three curators and editors of the catalogue, Nikolaos Kaltsas, Ioannis Mylonopoulos and me. The descriptions provide the basic elements of the representation, narrative, or myth. We place emphasis on facts, especially on facts related to the subject of the exhibition, not on interpretations. The viewers/readers are left enough space to develop their own thoughts.

The main body of the catalogue is general essays about emotions in antiquity, the middle ages and modern neuro-sciences, as well as essays dedicated to the main sections of the exhibition (The Art of Emotions, the Spaces of Emotions, Conflicting emotions, and Pathos. In addition to essays by the three curators and two Greek collaborators (Mimika Giannopoulou and Anthi Dipla), for the general essays we were fortunate enough to have as authors three leading figures in the field: David Konstan, a leading scholar in the study of emotions in Greek Antiquity, Barbara Rosenwein, who has coined the term ‘emotional communities’ and has studied emotions in Mediaeval Europe, and Joseph LeDoux, a leading scholar in the study of emotions in the neuro-sciences. All essays, again, have been written in a manner that makes them accessible to the general audience. The authors tried to build bridges between past and present, associating the subject of the exhibition with modern phenomena.

Instead of having a catalogue of objects at the end of the book, we decided to have small groups of objects following the relevant essay.”

When asked about how long it took to put the project together, Prof. Chaniotis said, “The invitation to the authors was sent in June, and the essays were submitted between August and November. The time was limited, but since we had as authors experts who have worked for many years on related subjects, we have in the catalogue essays that present in a clear, often witty, manner, very good overviews about general phenomena.”

The professor offered this final remark about the catalogue, “Naturally, the selection of objects was to some extent determined by various practical considerations, such as the availability, size, and weight of objects, the space available at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York, the sometimes complex requirements of museums. For this reason, important areas in which Greek culture was present in the period covered by the exhibition, such as the area of the Black Sea, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Near East, are not represented with exhibits. And yet, the catalogue has given us the possibility to included references to texts and images of objects from these areas in the chapters of the catalogue.”

A World of Emotions is on view through June 24 at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York. The exhibition catalogue along with Prof. Chaniotis’ previously published books are available online.


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