About the Project


The core of this research involves the human body as a ‘spectacle’ in and of itself, and the psychological aspects involved in exploiting individual persons for visual display. Specifically, the data presented here focuses on the abnormal human body, and situations where the human form is regarded as ‘spectacular’ due to its unusual or deformed properties, whether congenital or deliberately mutilated. The city of Rome is the geographic centre for this study, as it provides a large literary corpus from which to draw information.

Rather than attempt to gather and present the information in a chronological manner or, conversely, to focus solely on the types of text from which the case studies are drawn, I have decided to organize my case studies around larger themes, from which point I incorporated textual analysis within these broader categories. The thematic groupings I have chosen are presented as separate pages within this website.

I have also incorporated modern socio-psychological theory into my research, particularly with regard to the display and exploitation of people for entertainment in the modern world. This involves sociological examination of the circus and midway ‘freak shows’ in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as modern theories of spectacle and psychological studies on fascination, awe, and exploitation.



The methodology of this research is such that I assembled case studies in which human beings were exploited as spectacle solely due to their unusual physical forms. In order to successfully collect examples which fell within these parameters, it was necessary to provide a clear definition of both ‘spectacle’ and ‘unusual physical form’ (or the modern term, ‘freak’).

Definition of ‘Spectacle’:  1) a visually striking performance or display; 2) an event or scene regarded in terms of its visual impact.

For the purposes of the present research, a human being is a spectacle when they are a) exploited for their appearance; and b) create an effect on others when interacted with visually (i.e. seen, watched, etc.). Keywords include:  Visually Accessible, Visually Stimulating, Out-of-the Ordinary.

Definition of ‘Freak’: 1) A person regarded as strange due to their unusual appearance or behaviour

This can have both positive and negative manifestations – my project focuses on the physical traits typically considered to be ‘negative’. Language (in English) includes words such as: grotesque, deformed, monstrous, extraordinary, unusual, abnormal.

Note that although these adjectives are largely negative, the reactions to these traits are not always so. The second part of my research examines the emotional reactions of the ancient Romans to the spectacle of the unusual human form, and then compares these reactions to parallel modern examples. I examine why novelty is so visually arousing, and why the spectacular human body creates such strong emotional reactions in other human beings.  Through a psychological investigation of these powerful emotions, I attempt to provide a common link between the reactions of the ancient Romans and those of people living in the modern world. This website presents the ongoing results of this research. 


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