Since this blagadingalong will feature Ekphrasis in a variety of forms, let's begin with the single most famous example of it. If you don't know what Ekphrasis is, that's okay. That's not important just yet.
Look at the following image of the shield of Achilles.
It's pretty, isn't it? But this shield is an interpretation of another work, and a reference to it. I'm not so postmodern as to call this shield a text. Nevertheless, it shares a similarity with postmodern texts in that it exists not as a thing in itself but as a comment on another text.
That text, of course, is The Iliad.
More specifically, the text is:
[Hephaestus] wrought also two cities, fair to see and busy with the hum of men. In the one were weddings and wedding-feasts, and they were going about the city with brides whom they were escorting by torchlight from their chambers. Loud rose the cry of Hymen, and the youths danced to the music of flute and lyre, while the women stood each at her house door to see them. Meanwhile the people were gathered in assembly, for there was a quarrel, and two men were wrangling about the blood-money for a man who had been killed, the one saying before the people that he had paid damages in full, and the other that he had not been paid.
Each was trying to make his own case good, and the people took sides, each man backing the side that he had taken; but the heralds kept them back, and the elders sate on their seats of stone in a solemn circle, holding the staves which the heralds had put into their hands. Then they rose and each in his turn gave judgement, and there were two talents laid down, to be given to him whose judgement should be deemed the fairest.
About the other city there lay encamped two hosts in gleaming armour, and they were divided whether to sack it, or to spare it and accept the half of what it contained. But the men of the city would not yet consent, and armed themselves for a surprise; their wives and little children kept guard upon the walls, and with them were the men who were past fighting through age; but the others sallied forth with Mars and Pallas Minerva at their head- both of them wrought in gold and clad in golden raiment, great and fair with their armour as befitting gods, while they that followed were smaller. - Iliad, Book XVIIII grabbed this version straight from Wikipedia. You can see it in the original Greek, or in English, on Perseus Project. I was going to paste you the excerpt from there but it was much longer and I am dreadfully worried about being too verbose.
This famous passage takes place after (spoiler alert!) the death of Patroclus, who wore Achilles' armor. Thus, Achilles needed new armor, and Hephaestus made a new shield just for him even though it wasn't even Christmas! (Not for another 1100 years, no less!)
Notice how the text describes the shield in such vivid detail that you could duplicate it yourself. That's exactly what the shield above is. It is not a shield, but an ekphrasis. That is, it is a work of art that describes another work of art.
Technically, it is an ekphrasis of an ekphrasis! A work of art--this piece of ceremonial/decorative armor--describes another work of art in a different medium, that famous passage from The Iliad, which itself describes another work of art--the real Shield of Achilles! But I suppose that makes the shield an ekphrasis of an ekphrasis on a work of art that does not exist. How very twisty-turny! I love it!
Anyway, I'd like to provide you with another ekphrasis on the text describing the Shield of Achilles. That is, I will present a work of art--in this case a photo--that embodies in a different form another work of art--a poem.
Here's my interpretation of the Shield of Achilles:
Before you get all huffy about how clever I must think I am... don't! I am hardly the only one to interpret the Shield of Achilles in this fashion. Many 4th-century Athenians whose names you know subscribed to this same interpretation, so we're in good company!
That's all for now. We will revisit the potent image of the Shield of Achilles again in the near future but from a different angle. Let me know what you think about the Shield of Achilles, the most famous example of ekphrasis in literature... and a potent passage of wonder which describes the System of the World (foreshadowing...)!