The Construction of Physical Otherness in Ancient Iconography

Véronique Dasen


In Antiquity, the ideal body is a construction within a visual system combining symmetry and specific physical proportions. Few literary and iconographic records relate to genetic disorders. Our modern notion of disability covers a large variety of physical limitations, more or less  severe, spectacular or invisible, eased or not by special devices, that did not form a consistent group in the past. Physical handicap as a category did not exist in Antiquity. Among genetic conditions, short-statured persons represent a spectacular exception. Their anomalous bodies are displayed in various media and contexts. Their disorder qualified them with special competences. The study of these interstitial figures », physically and mentally fit, contributes to the scholarly debate on the definition of otherness, dis-ability and tolerance in past societies.


Key words: Dwarfism - Iconography - Disability

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