Modern Philosophy

The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge, and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire
by Shadi Bartsch

Reading new meaning from ancient texts, Shadi Bartsch offers original and inspiring insights into the classical world in The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge, and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire. This fresh interpretation of philosophical works from the ancient world discovers how sight, sex, and self-reflection are portrayed in classical times, when vision was considered to be a tactile sense. The connections between vision, sexuality, and self-knowledge are shown to be important facets of the classical understanding of self.

Tracing the classical understanding of self from Plato to Seneca, The Mirror of the Self begins with a thorough portrayal of how mirrors are depicted in ancient texts as a means to provide introspective self-knowledge for ethical self-improvement, as well as for erotic self-indulgence. The ancients believed that sight involved transmitting and receiving physical particles, with corresponding emotive and sexual connotations. Sight was considered to be a tactile sense to the extent that the gaze of a lover becomes equivalent to an agreeable sexual act.

This fresh interpretation of classical Greek and Roman texts demonstrates how the perception of vision as both a tactile sense and an ethical tool was understood in widely divergent cultural contexts by Greek and Roman philosophers. This exceptional book culminates in a profoundly original reading of Medea, revealing how Seneca portrays the Roman view of self as a philosophical manifestation that is outwardly demonstrated through the performance of virtue in a Stoic quest for self-knowledge.

With the classical understanding of vision considered to be both an ethical tool and a tactile sense, The Mirror of the Self demonstrates how vision relates to the philosophy of self-perception in a meticulously researched and scholarly interpretation of literary theory, philosophy, and social history. Bartsch guides readers through stories of lustful Stoics, moral hypocrisy, and divided selves, which clearly define how people in antiquity were affected by their own self-perception and how these perceptions were influenced by values of the communities in which they lived.

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