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Past Event Highlights

Ancient and Modern Equality

Aldo Schiavone, Professor of Roman Law, Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane - Scuola Normale Superiore

The idea of equality is one of the constituent features of Western identity. Bound up within it in an almost inextricabe fashion are the legacy of the classical world and modern thought, the ancient polis and industrial society.  

The aim of my lectures is to outline a genealogy of this character, beginning with two elements that made its birth possible: the invention of politics and democracy by the Greeks, and the invention of law by the Romans.  These were the two paradigms that enabled the modern construction of equality through the great revolutions of the eighteenth century, in America and France. And it is still from them that we must begin if we wish to ask ourselves what the future of this decisive experience will be.



The Religious Life of Things: 2013 Meeting of the Midwest Consortium on Ancient Religions



Ancient Law Ancient Society, a conference in honor of Bruce Frier, John and Teresa D'Arms Distinguished University Professor of Classics and Roman Law.



Gerald F. Else Lecture in the Humanities presented by Prof. Blakey Vermeule, Stanford University.



Inventing the Minoans by Dr. Kenneth Lapatin, Associate Curator of Antiquities, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Even if Arthur Evans (1851–1941) was not the first to discover the Minoans, it might still be argued that he invented them.  Others had explored the prehistoric civilizations of the Aegean before him and much knowledge has been gained since his death but his synthetic vision of ancient Crete remains pervasive: a peaceable island kingdom spreading civilization across the Mediterranean through extensive mercantile networks. Is this a convincing reading of the ancient evidence or the imposition of preconceived notions, many of them formed at the height of the British Empire?

Minoan Monotheism: was Sir Arthur Evans Right by Nanno Marinatos, Professor and Head, Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago.  

In the period between the two great European wars, the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans produced a revolutionary theory: Minoan religion was monotheistic. What exactly did he mean by this word? Was he right or wrong? The majority of scholars are skeptical about Evans’ theories but the excavations at Akrotiri, on Thera (Santorini) have fully justified his model of monotheism. Recently restored paintings of murals show that one goddess is the dominant deity and she is most definitely a Minoan one.



Contexts for Classics Presents:

Roman Error: The Reception of Ancient Rome as a Flawed Model

The idea of large-scale Roman missteps—whether imperial domination, sexual immorality, political corruption, greed, religious intolerance, cultural insensitivity, or the like—has been a notion “good to think with” since antiquity, and persists in familiar comparisons between the Roman Empire and the present-day United States.  This conference seeks to go beyond a merely thematic discussion to  re-examine the connections between “Roman error,” broadly conceived, and basic features of the reception of antiquity including: misunderstanding and misprision, repetition and difference, the subject’s relation to a (remembered or unconscious) past, performance and illusion, and links between text and image.  If the Romans “erred,” what are the consequences for Rome’s inheritors as they attempt to construct a stable relation to Rome as a flawed “source” or model?  We ask not simply, “Are Rome’s errors ours?” but, “How does Roman error figure in the reception of Rome itself?”

FRIDAY, September 20th
2:00 Welcome
Error and Empire
2:15 Phiroze Vasunia (University of Reading), “The Roman Empire and the Error of Civilization”
3:00 Margaret Malamud (New Mexico State University), “Worse than Cato? How to Think about Slavery”

Error and the Body Politic
4:00  Michèle Lowrie (University of Chicago), “Civil War and the Republic to Come in Victor Hugo's Quatrevingt-treize”  
4:45 Joy Connolly (New York University), “Past Sovereignty: Roman Freedom in Modernity”  

SATURDAY, September 21st
Error and Affect
9:00 Marc Bizer (University of Texas at Austin), “Romans into (Elite) Frenchmen: Michel de Montaigne's Revision of Cicero on the Politics of Friendship”
9:45 Craig Williams (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), “False Friends: Moments in the  Reception of amicitia”

Error and Assessment
10:45 Caroline Vout (University of Cambridge), “The Error of Roman Aesthetics”
11:30 Serafina Cuomo (Birkbeck, University of London), “Measurement, Error, and Accuracy in the Roman World”

Error, Religion, and Philosophy
2:00 Marco Formisano (Ghent University), “Roman Errors and Religion: Symmachus and Lorenzo Valla”
2:45 Richard Fletcher (The Ohio State University), “The Kristevan Slip: Narcissus, Eros, and Other Errors in Roman Philosophy”

Error, Narrative, and Film
3:45 Catherine Edwards (Birkbeck, University of London), “The Romance of Roman Error: Encounters with Antiquity in Hawthorne's The Marble Faun”
4:30 Maria Wyke (University College, London), “The Pleasures and Punishments of Roman Excess: Elagabalus at the Court of Early Cinema”



Thomas Spencer Jerome Lecture Series
Speaker - David Mattingly, University of Leicester

Africa Under Rome: 

Relationships, Identities and Cultural Trajectories

Contemporary field archaeology extends our knowledge of the ancient world, once confined to cities and the books written in them, deep into the countryside.  David Mattingly's lectures show us how to read the record of material culture so that we can understand the complex and dynamic relationship between the people of the North African Countryside and their Roman overlords.

Lecture 1
April 8, 4PM, Palmer Commons, Forum Hall
Cultural Encounters in 1st Millennium BC Africa: Romans, Libyphoenicians and Libyans

Lecture 2
April 10, 4PM, Palmer Commons, Great Lakes South
Pacifying, Protecting, Policing, Posturing? The Military Community in Roman Africa

Lecture 3
April 15, 4PM, Palmer Commons, Forum Hall
A World of Difference: Rural Communities in Africa under Rome

Lecture 4:
April 17, 4PM, Palmer Commons, Great Lakes South
Africa in the Roman Empire: Urban Identities and Urban Trajectories

poster  brochure

Colonialism in Antiquity

Greg Woolf, University of St. Andrews
Classics Library, Angell Hall 2175
April 16, 2013, 4PM

The colonial experience of European nation-states has, for at least a century, provided inspiration for those trying to understand the spread of Greek civic forms and the expansion of Roman power. Post-colonial theory is now among the most powerful analytical tools employed by ancient historians and classical archaeologists, offering new insights and setting new agenda for research. But its use raises problems not restricted to familiar complaints about the limits of comparison. This paper examines the costs of postcolonialism, and the plausibility of the grand narratives it invites us to write about the ancient world.

poster   photos










Prof. Richard Janko, Department of Classical Studies, received one of the university's top honors being named a Distinguished University Professor (DUP).  As part of this honor he gave  a DUP lecture on February 20, 2013 at 4 p.m. in the Rackham Auditorium entitled Inventing the Alphabet: Advanced Communication in the Ancient World.  

Inventing the alphabet: Advanced communication in the ancient world

    Computers, e-mail, blogs, Twitter, 140-character Tweets—our society prides itself on its
rapid developments in human communication. Yet what was surely the most profound
advance, on which so much else depends, happened some twenty-eight centuries ago—
the invention of the alphabet. Writing began by representing whole words like
shkap☂✂⚠✈❄♥☕☺, then syllables like !"#$, and only then individual sounds like
%&'. Even the latter system still conveyed only the skeletons of words, as there were no
vowels: These were the essential invention. Wrtng s srsly hrd t ndrstnd f thr r n vwlst ll t
hlp s rd r txts! (LOL if you get that.) Even if we do not disinvent the vowels, the vagaries
of English spelling mangle and abuse the alphabet that the Greeks and Romans gave us,
but its immense advantages in clarity still shine through.
    The origins of this technological breakthrough remain a mystery. We still do not
know where full alphabetic writing was invented, by whom, or even exactly when.
Estimates range from 1100 to 730 B.C.E.—a large discrepancy. And was it Phoenician
traders, ranging far and wide as the Mediterranean world emerged from a disastrous
downturn, who taught their Greek clients its elements? Was it Phrygians in inland
Turkey, who carved their names into timbers that were felled in 743 B.C.E.? Or was it
Greeks who had sailed as far as Italy, who passed the alphabet to the Romans even before
they brought it back home to the Aegean, and then used it to write down the earliest
European literature, the epics of Homer? Recent discoveries from around the
Mediterranean are helping to disperse the darkness.

Click here to view lecture.

Inscribed Epigrams In and Out of Sequence

Peter Bing, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Classics, Emory University


October 31, 2012 · Michigan League · 4PM






Part of the Gerald F. Else Lecture in the Humanities series.

Poster · Photos

Cognition: An Inquiry into the Role of Metonymy and Analogy in Roman Political and Legal Thought.


Clifford Ando, University of Chicago

October 18 · 4PM · Classics Library





This lecture was part of the Rackham Centennial Lecture series.  The series showcased the diversity and quality of the intellectual legacy of the University’s graduates. Over 60 graduate programs hosted a Centennial Lecture delivered by graduate alumni in October 2012.

Poster · Photos









International Plato Society U.S. Regional Meeting

Plato's Moral Psychology

October 4-7, 2012 · Angell Hall

Program · Photos · Poster

Pindar of Thebes and His Invitation to Travel: Pythian 3 and Olympian 2

Nancy Felson, University of Georgia

Conference Room 2115A · October 2, 2013 

This lecture was part of the Else Lecture series.



The Greek Background   

of Natural Law

September 23, 2012 · 2:00PM Rackham Building, Amphitheater


Lloyd L. Weinreb, Dane Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

The doctrine of natural law originates in the idea of normative natural order, which emerged clearly in fifth century Athens.It affirmed that nature—what there is—is ordered normatively.  This idea is expressed in the great tragedies, most notably those of Sophocles. After the fifth century, it was incorporated into the Stoic doctrine of the Logos. It was picked up by Cicero, whose Latin expression of it in the first century gave rise to what may properly be called a doctrine of natural law, later adapted by Thomas Aquinas to the teachings of the Christian church. Today, natural law is widely regarded as a school of jurisprudence which affirms that true law conforms to moral precepts and that a rule that does not so conform is not law properly so called. The original Greek notion of normative natural order persists not in the doctrine of natural law but in the idea of justice.

Brad Inwood, Professor of Philosophy and Classics at the University of Toronto                   

Why should one be virtuous? Always a tough question, but even tougher if what we’re really asking is why one should go through all the hard work and training demanded to acquire a virtuous disposition. Ancient moral theorists made it clear that virtue, though natural in some sense, doesn’t come without effort. The reason why people should go to the trouble of learning to be good is often thought to be obvious in a eudaimonistic context. If happiness is the human telos it is the natural fulfillment of our nature. Who wouldn’t want to fulfill their nature? It might be the case that the motivating reason for the pursuit of virtue was thought to be too obvious to need discussion, but nevertheless it is striking how rarely ancient writers provide a substantive, non-question-begging account of the psychological motivation for acquiring virtue (as opposed to the philosophical motivation one might have for promoting a virtue-based moral theory). One later Aristotelian author actually provides an explicit argument on this point, in chapter 3 of the doxographical account of ethics found in Stobaeus’ Anthology (often called ‘doxography C’). Though largely neglected, this theory persuasively connects the reason one has to become virtuous to a standard and plausible ancient account of human nature. In this paper I present the argument, show how it is meant to work, and defend it as the most explicit and plausible strategy for connecting a theory of human nature with the demands of virtue offered by the mainstream ancient philosophical tradition.

9-23-12 DVD from UM Classical Studies on Vimeo.


Event Program · Photos