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L’oblique dans le monde grec
Concept et imagerie by Thibault Girard. iv+189; illustrated throughout in black & white. French text. 159 2015. Available both in printed and e-versions. Printed ISBN 9781784911393. Epublication ISBN 9781784911409.
Book contents page
What could be more evident than the concepts of oblique, horizontal or vertical? In the modern world, these concepts form the basis of our thought system, both from a mathematical and artistic point of view. Everything would suggest that these principles were known to the Greek civilization. However, the study of the surviving texts casts a different light on the matter. Homer did not know the concept of oblique - no word could translate it into the language of his time. Even later, the Greeks had five adjectives approximately meaning oblique: λοξός, πλάγιος, λέχριος, σκολιός and δόχμιος. Each discipline (cosmology, optic, geography, art, etc.) had its own way of looking at these five words. Paradoxically, what the written language had not yet synthesized was abundant in imagery. Even more surprising, the oblique in images, which we consider as a sign of movement in our own iconographic language, is found to signify both movement and rest. Two monuments of Greek art draw attention to this new paradox: the frieze of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Mourning Athena. In each of them, the oblique line is present, and carries two distinct meanings.

These two forms of language, written and figurative, bring a different and complementary perspective on the ancient Greeks' apprehension (or lack thereof) of the concept of oblique.

French description:
Quoi de plus évident que les concepts d’oblique, d’horizontal ou de vertical ? Pour nous, modernes,ces concepts fondamentaux sont la base de tout notre système de pensée, tant mathématiquequ’artistique. Tout porterait à croire que ces principes soient présents dans la civilisation grecque,dont nous nous réclamons les héritiers. Ce n’est pourtant pas une évidence au vu des textes quinous ont été rapportés. Homère n’a pas connu le concept d’oblique – aucun mot ne saurait letraduire dans la langue de son époque. Et même plus tard. Les Grecs ont cinq adjectifs pour signifierapproximativement l’oblique : λοξός, πλάγιος, λέχριος, σκολιός et δόχμιος. Chaque discipline(cosmologie, optique, géographie, artistique, etc.) a sa façon d’appréhender ces cinq termes.Paradoxalement, ce que le langage écrit n’a pas synthétisé se retrouve en abondance dans l’imagerie.Plus surprenant encore, l’oblique dans l’image, que nous considérons comme signe du mouvementdans notre langage iconographique, se retrouve aussi bien pour signifier le mouvement que le repos.Deux monuments de l’art grec attirent notre attention sur ce nouveau paradoxe : la frise du Mausoléed’Halicarnasse et l’Athéna Pensive. À chaque fois l’oblique est présente, à chaque fois elle porte deuxsens bien distincts.

Ces deux formes de langage, écrit et imagé, apportent un éclairage différent, et pour le moinscomplémentaire, sur la façon dont les Grecs de l’Antiquité ont appréhendé (ou non) le conceptd’oblique.

Read an interview with author Thibault Girard published in Insula: Le blog de la Bibliothèque des Sciences de l'Antiquité (Lille 3) — ISSN 2427-8297 concerning his publication L’oblique dans le monde grec.

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