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Clothing the soul

Habiller l’âme

Dress metaphors of the body in Antiquity

Métaphores vestimentaires du corps dans l’Antiquité

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Published on Wednesday, October 06, 2021 by Céline Guilleux


Il s’agira de s’intéresser aux métaphores vestimentaires antiques en s’interrogeant à la fois sur les motivations de cet emploi métaphorique et sur les manières dont la métaphore est employée. Dans la lignée des travaux métaphorologiques, ouverts par H. Blumenberg, on pourra se demander si cette métaphore vestimentaire pour parler du corps dans ses rapports à l’âme est toujours la même, ou s’il convient au contraire d’en étudier l’historicité. On s’interrogera ainsi sur ce que dit la métaphore vestimentaire de la conceptualisation du rapport entre le corps et l’âme à chaque fois qu’elle est employée. Quelle est la fonction didactique ou heuristique de cette métaphore ? Comment cette métaphore évolue-t-elle et prend-t-elle un sens différent dans des contextes philosophiques et littéraires variés d’Homère à Augustin d’Hippone ?



This one day workshop is aimed at PhD students, junior and senior academics

Dress metaphors in texts from Antiquity are the academic field chosen by the junior lab Himation (ENS de Lyon) to work on for the coming two years. We are a group of PhD students in Classics and philosophy. During the last decades, many studies displayed a strong interest in in the antique dress as an expression of identity – whether it was a social, ethnic or gendered one  – or more widely as a social indicator for how one is in compliance with or distant from sociocultural standards[1]. Nonetheless even if dress metaphors are frequently found in texts by ancient writers in various genres –  politics, philosophy, poetry or theology –, how these metaphors are used and how they work has rarely been examinated. With this in mind, it seems to us that it might be interesting to look at those metaphors not only as a stylistic ornament but also as a concrete tool taking part in the conceptualization of an abstract reality which is sometimes difficult to express in another way[2].

This colloquium will be devoted to the study of metaphors of body, naked or dressed, which assimilate it to the soul's garment, the soul being understood as the personal place of psychological and emotional activity and also as an immortal entity. We should observe the dress metaphors and each time ask ourselves why these metaphors are employed and how they are inserted in the author’s demonstration. In line with the metaphorological studies launched by H. Blumenberg, we could raise questions about the historicity of such metaphors: how are they differently used through the ages, and how do they reveal the evolution of the concepts to which they are linked ? We will thus ask ourselves: what does the clothing metaphor say about the conceptualization of the relationship between the body and the soul in each instance of its appearance? What are the didactic and heuristic functions of this metaphor? How does this metaphor evolve and does it convey a different meaning in the various literary and philosophical contexts from Homer to Augustine?

Three major lines will lead our reflection during this day:

The body, in its nakedness or clothed, as a figurative representation of one person’s interiority. We would like to consider here clothes under their symbolic dimension as a figurative expression for a psychological abstraction or an emotional concept. For example Theophrastus makes use of several clothing metaphors in order to conceptualize the general type of a personality, be it cowardice or parsimony. The literary game on clothes could also represent the soul’s movements themselves: Douglas Cairns has particularly investigated the expression of emotions and of death experience through dress metaphors in archaic Greek poetry[3]. It appears interesting to follow the path he offers and to question the role of such a metaphor in the conceptualization of interiority and subjectivity in texts from Antiquity. Why is the dress the tool par excellence to express interiority? Which features of the garment, colors, uses, social functions, are summoned in the clothing metaphor dealing with emotions?

Expressing a dualist vision of the human being with clothing metaphors. Indeed the imagery of clothing in metaphors enjoys a special status among the ancient authors to defend an anthropologically dualist conception of humanity. Socrates, as depicted by Plato, conceived the relationship between the soul and the body in that manner in Phaedo, being influenced by the orphic and Pythagorean thoughts. This metaphor of the χιτὼν τὸ σῶμα τῇ ψυχῇ ὅ ἠφίεσται, if we may borrow Porphyrius’ words in his De Antro Nympharum, proved to have a great posterity among the Neoplatonists but also in other philosophical schools since we find it in Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius[4] and given that the Christian authors did not hesitate to seize it for their own use. How do the non-Platonist philosophical schools re-appropriate this metaphor and to convey which meaning? How do Neoplatonism and its various embodiments re-elaborate the antique clothing metaphor? How does this metaphor instill the collective unconscious?

Explaining the Incarnation and discussing Christian life with clothing metaphors. Christian thinkers reengaged with these dress metaphors to explain the Incarnation’s modus when the son of God clothes himself with human flesh (indurere carnem),  as we see for instance in Tertullian’s works, an author who cherishes this image. Nonetheless this metaphor was finally condemned precisely because it was verging too much on dualism. At the same time, two different conceptions of the dress, seemingly in opposition, exist side-by-side to describe the link between the faithful and God. On the one hand the believer, especially in the Pauline tradition is called to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 13, 14) in particular in the context of baptism when the white garment symbolizes both the original state in Eden and the garment of glory for the final Judgment. On the other hand, he is encouraged to get rid of the “coats of skins” (Gn 3, 21) so that he may reach again the Adam’s sinless nakedness that is the way to holiness. How is the clothing metaphor used in catechetical and polemical texts ? Does it always have the same function? What are the various interpretations of Gn 3, 21 and Rm 13, 14 suggested by Greek and Latin authors? Is there a unified exegesis of clothes in the New Testament?

Submission guidelines

Papers given in French or English will not exceed 30 minutes and will be followed by discussions. The proposal, having the form of an abstract (300 words maximum) in French or English should be sent to the following address: himationlabojunior@gmail.com

before Nov 30th 2021.

Selection committee

  • Juliette DELALANDE (Edita, Sorbonne-Université)
  • Barthélémy ENFREIN (LEM, EPHE – Ca’Foscari)
  • Misel JABIN (IHRIM, ENS de Lyon)
  • Dimitri MEZIERE (Rome et ses renaissances, Sorbonne Université)
  • Pauline RATES (IHRIM, ENS de Lyon)
  • Floriane SANFILIPPO (Ausonius, Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne)


[1] The bibliography on dress in the Antique worlds is very rich. We should only indicate here the recent works led by the LAHM Lab (Université Rennes 2) et the Pheacie team, now integrated in  ANHIMA. For a bibliographic synthesis, we refer to the article by F. Gherchanoc and V. Huet, « Pratiques politiques et culturelles du vêtement. Essai historiographique », Revue Historique, 2007, n°641, p.3-30.

[2]  We are thinking especially about the « absolute metaphors » as defined by par H. Blumenberg in Paradigmes pour une métaphorologie, (trad. D. Gammelin), Paris, Vrin, 2007 [1960], p. 9-11.

[3] Cf. especially D. Cairns, « Clothed in Shamelessness, Shrouded in Grief. The Role of “Garment” Metaphors in Ancient Greek Concepts of Emotion », in Spinning Fates and Song of the Loom: The Use of Textiles, Clothing and Cloth Production as Metaphor, Symbol and Narrative Device in Greek and Latin Literature (éds. M. L. Nosch, M. Harlow, G. Fanfani), Oxford, Oxbow Books, 2016, p. 25-41.

[4] Sen. Epist. 92. 13 : Quod de ueste dixi, idem me dicere de corpore existima. nam hoc quoque natura ut quandam uestem animo circumdedit, uelamentum eius est.


  • Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon
    Lyon, France (69)


  • Tuesday, November 30, 2021


  • antiquité, vêtement, métaphore, philosophie, platonisme, christianisme, incarnation, émotion


  • Barthélémy Enfrein
    courriel : himationlabojunior [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Barthélémy Enfrein
    courriel : himationlabojunior [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Clothing the soul », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, October 06, 2021, https://calenda.org/917125

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