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II Landscape and Aesthetics

  • Diana Spencer

Extract

Defining a space as landscape suggests that it is visually distinctive and interesting, that it attracts the eye, and engages the senses and faculties. Agriculture (or productivity) can be one important feature of what makes space into land and divides it up into -scapes and territories, but it is not always the main issue. Typically, classical texts featuring something akin to our ‘landscape’ showcase the natural environment supporting, threatening, or ornamenting human existence. So at the beginning of the Graeco–Roman tradition we see that the landscapes of Homeric epic, or pastoral verse (for example, the Hellenistic poets Bion and Theocritus), gain order and meaning from the inclusion of human figures, but they also contribute atmosphere and a distinctive sense of place that enriches the stories that play out against them. Chapter I introduced one particularly delightful and hugely popular topographic trope: an idyllic space where sensory and aesthetic qualities encourage harmony between humans and nature. The locus classicus or touchstone for this locus amoenus is Plato's dialogue Phaedrus. Famously, this dialogue riffs on a very specific landscape scene, one which was to have an intense and far-reaching effect on subsequent landscape discourse, and which provides an ideal point of departure.

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