Complete Story


Winter 2013, 43:1, pages 46-70

The Mock Rock Topos

Abstract:  A prominent strain of argument and assessment in ancient texts places stones and words side-by-side for evaluation. I call this strain “the mock rock topos,” exploiting the ambiguity of mock (mimic/taunt) to capture a common ancient attitude toward verbal representations, written especially: that they share certain qualities with stone and stonework but outperform them, too. The mock rock topos consists of four main sub-topoi—masterpiece, mimêsis, movement, and memory—whereby graphic rhetors assert the superiority of their products. Detractors of writers and writing often use lithic language in their criticisms as well. The practice of pairing busts of representative authors with their book-rolls in ancient libraries complicated the representation competition between stone and scroll and enhanced the cultured and cultural experience of readers in those spaces.

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