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Bielfeldt, Ruth (2018): Candelabrus and Trimalchio: Embodied Histories of Roman Lampstands and their Slaves. In: Art History, Vol. 41, No. 3: pp. 420-443
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Abstract

This essay uses the term 'embodied' to define material things that engage people in a physical way and, in doing so, that prompt them to reflect on the bodily conditions of human existence, and on the social and cultural meanings of human practices. As both immediate physical experiences and culturally and socially shaped encounters, past interactions between humans and objects pose a twofold interpretive challenge to the historian of material culture, and thus call for an integrated phenomenological and hermeneutical approach. A case study from Roman antiquity concerns the embodied relationship between slaves and household artefacts, as illustrated by a key passage in Petronius's Cena Trimalchionis, in which the ex-slave Trimalchio recalls his manipulation of a light instrument (candelabrus) for personal physical use. This anecdote is supplemented by discussion of the series of ephebes from Pompeii, classicizing bronze statues made to be converted into domestic tray-bearers, and as such artworks that reflect the ongoing process of cultural domestication by their Roman users. Read in light of such material object at work, the anecdote is seen as an important testimony of Roman embodied practices.