Northwestern Events Calendar


Renaud Gagné (University of Cambridge), "Secret Signs and Hidden Gods: Magic and Philosophy in the Later Roman Empire"

An onyx intaglio in The Met with charaktêres alongside Greek letters

When: Friday, February 24, 2023
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM CT

Where: Kresge Hall, 2350, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Upenieks   (847) 491-7597

Group: Department of Classics

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings


Innumerable types of graphic marks populated the visual environment of Mediterranean cities in the later Roman empire. Different sign systems competed over every imaginable surface, from walls to papyrus, lead or gems, objects to clothes and bodies, for attention, recognition, and power. That vast repertoire of signs interacted with viewers in a thousand different ways, over and above literacy. Intelligibility was often the exception. A whole constellation of practices and discourses offered the audiences of the later Roman East competing modes for apprehending what is hidden within signs. Grounded in the prestigious, widespread language of Mysteries, it became a cornerstone in the development of a distinctive religious idiom of ineffability, something that exists beyond the capacities of language. The idea that signs can reflect the inexpressible became a fertile ground for attempts to develop access to the hyperenchanted world of the latter ancient Platonists. We will briefly look at one such tradition of claims on signs, namely the discourses and practices of theurgy on charaktêres

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