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Narcissus and the Happy Inch: Using Space Syntax and Real-Time 3D to Rethink the Power-House in Pompeii

April 18 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm MDT

Digital Humanities Affinity Group Spring Series Presents “Narcissus and the Happy Inch: Using Space Syntax and Real-Time 3D to Rethink the Power-House in Pompeii”, by Professor David Frederick, University of Arkansas.

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Sponsored by the Boise State Center for Research and Creative Activity, this talk is open to all Boise State students, faculty, and staff. In a ground-breaking article in 1988, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill declared, “His house was a power-house,” by “his” meaning the dominus, the elite male owner of the property. In this piece and the subsequent Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (1994), Wallace-Hadrill developed his argument that Roman houses were articulated along two axes: private-public and grand-humble. The apex of space and decoration lay in the private-grand rooms, which brought visitors into the most intimate contact with the dominus, in the most impressive settings. Wallace-Hadrill’s reading of the Roman house remains dominant in 2022, in part because it coincided with the emergence of the penetrator-penetrated binary model of Greek and Roman sexual and social relations, based on the work of Dover and Foucault. Combining an updated form of Space Syntax analysis (ArcGIS, Gephi, Unity) with a fresh look at erotic compositions in private-grand spaces (Unity, webGL), this presentation argues that the house was indeed a power-house, but with a markedly decentralized spatial network. There are typically multiple significant nodes and pathways for movement and information flow, pointing to the importance of multiple agents beyond the dominus, including wives and enslaved household members. This is consistent with literary evidence (Apuleius, Cicero, Juvenal, Petronius) that points to the agency of the “penetrated,” suggesting that the Roman house, in its space and decoration, constructs not just the power of the dominus, but the more clandestine social networks and power of inhabitants often viewed as passive. This has tantalizing connections with gender queer erotic compositions in wall painting. The presentation closes with a reconsideration of the Warren Cup and sexual/social agency in the context of private-grand domestic space.

Speaker Bio

An Associate Professor in Classical Studies, Prof. Fredrick directed the Tesseract Center for Game Design at the University of Arkansas from 2014-2021 and is currently working to build a new Digital Humanities and Game Design Studio in the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Through Tesseract, he directed the production of video games and interactive visualizations for teaching and research, with projects that include modeling space and movement in ancient Pompeii, Native American languages and culture, experiences of captivity, trauma, and resilience in the Arkansas Delta during WWII, and the emergence of Black institutions in early 19th-century Brooklyn. In 2015, Tesseract’s interactive gallery application for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art received a Golden Muse Award from the American Alliance of Museums, and in 2021 Mornin’ in Your Eyes, a video game developed to teach Civil Rights history, received a Silver Award in the Serious Games competition.