Annual Conference 2015


18-19 June 2015, University of St Andrews

The Ethics of Reading in Hellenistic and Early Imperial Greek and Roman Texts

“We must entertain considerable doubt about the character of Timaeus. For he tells us that poets and authors reveal their real natures in their works by dwelling excessively on certain matters. 2 Homer, he says, is constantly feasting his heroes, and this indicates that he was more or less of a glutton. Aristotle frequently gives recipes for cookery in his works, so he must have been an epicure and a lover of dainties. […] 4 We are driven then to form our opinion of Timaeus on the same principle and to take an unfavourable view of his own tendencies. 5 For while he exhibits great severity and audacity in accusing others, his own pronouncements are full of dreams, prodigies, incredible tales, and to put it shortly, craven superstition and womanish love of the marvellous […] being given to paradox and contentiously defending every statement, he overawes most people by his language, compelling them to belief by the superficial appearance of veracity, while in other cases he invites discussion and seems likely to carry conviction by the proofs he produces. […] Those who pay close attention to his political speeches, and his verbose speeches in general, become […] childish, scholastic, and quite unveracious’ (Pol. 12.24.1-26d1, transl. Paton).

Like Polybius, ancient authors often conceived of writing and reading as an activity with serious moral and ethical implications.

Important aspects of this process and its larger social-cultural context have already been well understood: the relationship between rhetorical training and the formation of character which is so prominent in Isocrates (e.g., Too 1995) and his admirer, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (e.g, Hidber 1996; Wiater 2011); the importance of speeches as carefully crafted representations of the speaker’s character (e.g., Gunderson 2003; Gleason 1995); the significance of exempla as guidelines for the readers’ own attitudes and behaviour, both in historiography and oratory (e.g., Rutherford 1994; Pownall 2004), and the philosophical conceptions of self-hood and character that have often influenced authors’ believes about character and (self-)representation (e.g., Gill 1996, 2006).

This conference aims to contribute to this lively debate and further elucidate the intersections of reading/ writing and ethics and morals in ancient thought. In particular, we hope to explore new aspects to the question by shifting the focus of the debate from the authors and their strategies of self-representation to the different ways in which texts of various genres involve the readers into ethical and moral issues.

Drawing on a wide variety of different genres of both Greek and Latin texts, the contributions to this conference seek to explore the numerous ways in which narratives intersect with moral and ethical questions and controversies. Some guiding questions include:
• how did ancient authors – philosophers and authors of literary texts but also political communities as “authors” of inscriptions – conceive of the moral and ethical implications of their texts?
• in what different ways do texts raise moral and ethical issues and controversies and prompt readers to engage with and take a stance towards them?
• which are the ethical and moral issues that are raised through these different narrative strategies?
• can we achieve a more precise understanding of how they imagined their texts would shape or inform their readers’ characters? Can we go beyond the familiar concept of imitatio/ μίμησις that corresponds to the use of exempla and other overt, ‘didactic’, elements in ancient texts?
• which elements of ancient texts and narratives apart from direct authorial statements contribute to prompting the reader to create an ‘ethical profile’ of the author?

Confirmed speakers include Mirko Canevaro (Edinburgh), Raphaëla Dubreuil (Edinburgh),  Elke Close (Edinburgh), Ben Gray (Edinburgh), Christa Gray (Glasgow), Lisa Hau (Glasgow), Alex Long (St Andrews),  Catherine Steel (Glasgow), Nicolas Wiater (St Andrews).

A detailed programme will follow nearer the time.


Gill, C. 1996 Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy: the Self in Dialogue. Oxford.
2006. The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought. Oxford.
Gleason, M.W. 1995. Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome. Princeton.
Gunderson, E. 2003. Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self. Cambridge.
Hidber, T. 1996. Das klassizistische Manifest des Dionys von Halikarnass. Die praefatio zu De oratoribus veteribus. Stuttgart/ Leipzig.
Pownall, F. 2004. Lessons from the Past. The Moral Use of History in Fourth-Century Prose. Ann Arbor.
Rutherford, R.B. 1994. ‘Learning from History: Categories and Case-Histories.’ In: R. Osborne/S. Hornblower (eds.), Ritual, Finance, Politics. Athenian Democratic Accounts Presented to David Lewis. Oxford: 53–68.
Too, Y.-L. 1995. The Rhetoric of Identity in Isocrates: Text, Power, Pedagogy. Cambridge.
Wiater, N. 2011. The Ideology of Classicism. Language, History, and Identity in Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Berlin.

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