Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Metamorphoses of the butterfly in classical antiquity : from the female body to the soul of the dead
Author: Blanco, Chiara
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 9016
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Full text unavailable from EThOS. Thesis embargoed until 01 Jan 2400
Access from Institution:
This dissertation explores the wide range of meanings assigned to the butterfly in classical antiquity. Although scholars have exclusively focused on its association with the soul in the Greco-Roman world, the butterfly was assigned a broader and more complex range of figurative meanings, specifically related to the erotic domain and the female body. The scope of this project is to investigate the metamorphoses that the symbol of the butterfly underwent in classical antiquity, and how, from being associated with female eroticism, it moved to symbolising the soul of the dead. My work starts in Chapter One with an analysis of the terminology assigned to the butterfly in Greece and Rome. Lexicographic and paremiographic sources remark upon the association between the butterfly and fire, with particular emphasis placed on lamps and torches. Thus, in Chapter Two I investigate how literary and artistic representations of the butterfly are symbolically intertwined with fire, sources of artificial light in particular, and the female world in Greek culture, with particular regard to the erotic domain. I continue my analysis of the butterfly's association with the erotic sphere in Chapter Three, where I analyse how the butterfly participated in the entangled symbolism linking the soul and female intimate parts in magic papyri and engraved gems. The second part of the chapter deals with the butterfly's connection with lovesickness, as the cutaneous rash caused by its wings was deemed to be one of the symptoms of excessive erotic desire in ancient Greece. In Chapter Four I also involve other animal symbols and I explore in more detail the connection between skin conditions caused by the butterfly - or other similar insects - and erōs. The fifth and final chapter analyses the butterfly as a symbol of the soul. I suggest that this symbolic association, which was so widespread in classical cultures as to influence languages, literature and art, occurred for the first time in Greece around the fourth century BCE. While at the beginning the butterfly was specifically connected with the soul of the dead, in both Greece and Rome, in later representations it started to have a broader meaning of soul - that is, it encompassed the meaning of both the soul of the dead and the pure soul before birth. Thus, by investigating the development of the symbol of the butterfly in classical antiquity, this thesis shows how reductive it is to consider the butterfly merely as a representation of the soul in the Greco-Roman world.
Supervisor: Betegh, Gábor ; D'Angelo, Tiziana Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Butterfly ; Classics ; Gender ; Soul ; Female ; Body