Objects of the lusting gaze: viewing women as works of art in late antique poetry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter examines the peculiar practice, common in late antique epic poetry, of comparing a character to a divinity stripped of their visual attributes. From the works of Claudian, Nonnus, and Colluthus it analyzes three case studies that epitomize this form of comparison and illustrate its use in a specific literary and cultural context. Such comparisons are shown to rely on the reader’s familiarity with visual representations of the pagan gods and to reflect a growing interest in and engagement with the visual arts in late antique literature. In defining characters by attributes they do not possess, the poets draw attention to their visual ambiguity and vulnerability, and allow internal and external audiences to gaze at them uninhibitedly. Female characters in particular are thus proffered as objects of the lusting gaze and are denied individual visual identities and narrative agency. This literary emphasis on artistic beauty, stripped of its attributes and, by extension, divine power, resembles contemporary Christian attempts to de-contextualize pagan artworks by removing their religious attributes and associations, reframing them as purely aesthetic objects.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGreek and Latin poetry of late antiquity
Subtitle of host publicationform, tradition, and context
EditorsBerenice Verhelst, Tine Scheijnen
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781009031769
ISBN (Print)9781316516058, 9781009013673
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Claudian
  • Nonnus
  • Colluthus
  • Objectification
  • Male gaze
  • Intertextuality
  • Intermediality


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