Thesis Christ: Memories and Monuments

Classics senior Lex Ladge traces the cultural and collective memory of the Attalid dynasty

Photo courtesy of Lex Ladge

Photo courtesy of Lex Ladge

Classics senior Lex Ladge is “all about the drama!” This describes both her personality and her attitude toward her thesis on collective and cultural memory in the “chronically understudied” Attalid dynasty during Hellenism. In Ladge’s words, her thesis addresses “how the Attalids, a Hellenistic dynasty (c. 280–133 BCE) based in the city of Pergamon (in modern Turkey), incorporate collective and cultural memories into their benefactions, essentially turning memories into objects.”

Ladge, with the help of her beloved professor pets Frankie and Django (and her advisor Paul Vădan), is exploring how these manifestations of memory provide a lens “to understand objects and architecture that are no longer extant.” She explained, “I argue that the Attalids gained power and became cultural influencers because they skillfully incorporated memories into their dedications, ensuring that any viewer of a monument or inscription would recall Attalid victories in war, the protection or aid that they provided to other cities in their region (collective memory) and/or Panhellenic cultural values and traditions like the Persian Wars or the Trojan War (cultural memory).”

Ladge started out as an art history major and is a gallery steward for the Cooley Gallery. Now, she is interested in Hellenistic art “because it’s the prettiest and most decadent type of ancient Mediterranean art.” Hence the drama. She first became interested in working on Attalid art and monuments because she was inspired by one of her favorite works of art: the Capitoline Gaul sculpture, “a Roman marble copy of an original Attalid bronze victory monument” that she had the chance to see when she studied in Rome in Fall 2017. She describes the sculpture as “where it all kind of began for me.”

In Ellen Millender’s class on barbarians in the ancient world her sophomore year, Ladge became an admirer of the Capitoline Gaul. She started exploring how “the Pergamene Gaul sculptures showed how the Attalids used a visual vocabulary similar to the one promoted in Classical Athens (on the Parthenon specifically) to depict their own barbarian enemy.” The focus on memory came later, as Ladge began to write “about the development of identity and how public art can play a role in that process.”

Ladge admits to being surprised by how much she’s enjoying the intellectual exercise of her thesis. She said, “Writing this thesis has gotten me to think more broadly about how I look at and understand objects, and it’s been an intellectual exercise that I got really excited about …  Less pretentiously though, I’ve really loved working with [Paul] on this and also loved getting lunch after our Friday meetings.”

In February, Ladge was accepted into the University of Chicago’s competitive PhD program for art history, where she will move in June. In this program, she will continue “to use alternative/non-art historical viewpoints in my analyses of ancient art in order to try to understand how and why objects were created and how they were received.” Ladge is “excited to freeze to death and to get involved with the arts scene there.”

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