3 November 2021 Start
3 November 2021 End
5.00 pm (UK time) Time
UK UCL, Room G09, Gordon House, Gordon Street, London WC1H 0PP

e-mail.: [email protected], [email protected]

Pausanias and Polygnotos’s Delphi paintings

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

UCL’s Department of Greek and Latin warmly invites to this week’s Lyceum Classics Community Seminar, which will take place on Wednesday at 5 pm UK time. David Wilson (King’s College London) will kindly present on “Pausanias and Polygnotos’ Delphi paintings: A Cognitive Approach”.


Pausanias devotes seven chapters of Book X of his Description of Greece to describing in detail two large composite paintings which covered all four walls of the Cnidian Lesche at Delphi: Polygnotos’s Iliupersis and Nekyia. This text is more detailed than any other element of his description of Delphi, which itself is one of the three pillars of his carefully structured work. Maybe the nature of the paintings explains his comprehensive interest.

Although no traces of them survive, I argue in this contribution that Polygnotos’s paintings were more than just decorative and that they were religious/ritual installations. Using insights from cognitive psychology, involving concepts of Absorption, Suggestion and Autosuggestion, I develop a hypothesis that they may have functioned as aids to epiphanic experience, analogous to that associated with modern Christian evangelical and Loyolan spiritual exercises. This hypothesis is then tested against the ancient historical, archaeological and textual evidence, which shows that the analogy may well stand. In the context of theoria at the festivals and oracle at Delphi, four critical cognitive features of such spiritual exercises are shown to be applicable to Polygnotos’s paintings. The implications of this are significant, not just for the understanding of classical painting, but of the operation of the sanctuary at Delphi and indeed of Pausanias’s motivations in writing his Description.

This session will be held in person and online on Zoom. If interested in attending online, please do email either chair ( or anna.[email protected]) and we will be more than happy to send you the Zoom link. The in-person session will be at Room G09, Gordon House, Gordon Street, London WC1H 0PP. Refreshments will be offered. A pub session will follow as the speaker will attend in person.