March 30, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 13

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    Aurelius, Cicero, Seneca topics of conference

    The Consortium for Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy in the Chicago Area––a group that includes scholars from the University as well as from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University––will hold an international conference on the tradition of Roman Stoicism.

    “This meeting will be the third [roman]biennial conference of the consortium,” explained Elizabeth Asmis, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures at Chicago.

    “The conferences form an important focus for our cooperative efforts. The last two events were very successful in attracting an international group of leading scholars, as well as interesting a wide audience in the Chicago area.”

    Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in Philosophy, the Law School and the Divinity School, will open the two-day conference with introductory remarks at

    2 p.m. Friday, April 14, in Harris Hall on the Northwestern University campus.

    “Among the most important ideas given voice by the Stoics was the idea that every human being has a dignity that should be regarded as an end in itself, not merely a means to someone else’s utility or pleasure,” said Nussbaum.

    “They were radical thinkers about the irrelevance of money and honor to human worth and about the equal worth of all human beings, including women.”

    Both Nussbaum and Asmis agree that Stoicism has had a lasting influence in the West. As Nussbaum points out, the major writers of the Stoic tradition––Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius––were all public philosophers. “One source of their appeal for later audiences is the fact that these are people who are really enmeshed in practical politics, whose ruminations on human dignity, on anger and on the vicissitudes of life are not just academic, but also profoundly practical,” she explained.

    “Both Seneca and Cicero tell us that philosophy has something to offer our lives, and they bring philosophy into contact with the affairs of life,” continued Nussbaum. “Epictetus gives advice about how to deal with a world of cataclysmic uncertainties that has helped countless people get through crises in their own lives. Marcus Aurelius has always been favored reading for politicians facing a life of uncertainty. I believe that President Clinton considers him a favorite author and reads him once a year.”

    Following Nussbaum’s introduction, Friday’s session will include two presentations––Julia Annas, professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, on “Marcus Aurelius: Ethics and Its Background,” and John Cooper, professor of philosophy at Princeton University, on “Moral Theory and Moral Improvement: Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.” Annas is a major figure in the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Her book The Morality of Happiness is one of the leading interpretations of Stoic ethics. Cooper, another leading scholar in the field, has focused increasingly on Stoic thought in recent years.

    The conference will reconvene Saturday, April 15, at the University with a morning session in the Classics Building, Room 10, 1010 E. 59th St. The day will begin with a 9 a.m. presentation on “The Pedagogic Strategy of Seneca’s De Beneficiis” by Miriam Griffin, professor of ancient history at Somerville College, Oxford University. The author of distinguished biographies of both Seneca and Nero, Griffin is a leading philosopher on Roman attitudes on suicide and the relationship between politics and philosophy.

    At 11 a.m., Eric Brown, assistant professor of philosophy at Washington University, St. Louis, will present “Seneca, Torn Between Two Cities.” Brown, a graduate of the College (A.B., ’91) who received his master’s degree (A.M., ’93) and doctorate (Ph.D., ’97) from Chicago, is currently writing a book about Cicero’s cosmopolitanism.

    After a lunch break and another venue change, the final session of the conference will begin at 2:30 p.m. with a presentation by Brad Inwood in the Humanities Institute on the lower level of Stevenson Hall, 701 S. Morgan Ave., on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Inwood, a professor of classics at the University of Toronto and the author of a significant book on Stoic theories of action, will present “Moral Judgement in Seneca.”

    David Sedley, professor of ancient philosophy at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge, will deliver the final conference presentation, “Stoic Metaphysics at Rome.” Sedley, who co-edited the basic source book for thought of the period, The Hellenistic Philosophers, has recently completed some of the formative work of editing the fragmentary texts of Epicurus, the leader of the school that rivaled the Stoics.

    “The speakers in this conference are, quite simply, most of the leading contemporary writers on the Stoics,” said Nussbaum. “We are very lucky to have been able to attract this remarkable group of scholars, all of whom relate the ideas of the Stoics to contemporary moral and political concerns.”

    For more information or to register for the event, contact Asmis via e-mail at e-asmis@uchicago.edu or visit the Classics Department Web site at http://humanities.uchicago.edu/classics/events.html#winter.