Changing Perceptions: Philodemus and Epicurean Philosophy

W.H. Allen Memorial Lecture

Wednesday, 21 October; reception 4:45; CAV AGM 5:20; lecture 5:30
Kaye Scott Room, Ormond College, 49 College Crescent, Parkville
Reception in the J M Young Room

Dr Sonya Wurster, University of Melbourne

This lecture focuses on the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara (c. 110 BCE to c. 40 or 35 BCE), who lived and worked in Italy during the late Roman Republic. It examines the impact of his works, which were preserved by the first pyroclastic surge of Mount Vesuvius, on our understanding of Epicurean philosophy. Prior to their discovery in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum in the 18th century, knowledge of Epicurean philosophy came from a very small number of extant Epicurean texts or from overtly hostile sources such as Cicero and Plutarch. Extant Epicurean sources, which included the account of Epicurus in Diogenes Laertius’ “Lives of the Philosophers” and Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura,” did not provide a full picture of Epicurean doctrines, while hostile sources actively misrepresented the school’s views. Owing to their fragmentary state, many of Philodemus’ works were little studied until the 1970s when Marcello Gigante began the Centro internazionale per lo studio dei papiri ercolanesi (C.I.S.P.E.). Since then, new editions and new technologies have made these difficult texts more accessible. Material from Philodemus, who wrote on a wide range of topics including death, rhetoric, music, poetry, logic, theology, epistemology, the history of philosophy and ethics, has thus changed perceptions of Epicurean philosophy. They have also provided insight into how Epicureans dealt with the competing claims of philosophy and a Roman context.

Sonya Wurster is an Honorary Fellow in Classics within the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at The University of Melbourne. She completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne in 2012 with a thesis on Philodemos; she also completed a MA thesis in 2007 on the Roman travel writer Strabo. In 2014 she was the recipient of the ASCS (Australasian Society for Classical Studies) Early Career Award. Since 2012 she has been President of AWAWS (Australasian Women in Ancient World Studies) and since 2011 has been a founding member and head editor of the Melbourne Historical Journal: The Amphora Issue.

The annual W.H. Allen Memorial Lecture is sponsored by the Classical Association of Victoria and Ormond College, in honour of Barney Allen, the first Secretary of the Classical Association of Victoria (1912 onwards) and Vice-Master of Ormond College from 1915-1943.

Immediately prior to this lecture, a brief Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Classical Association of Victoria (CAV) will take place, beginning at 5:20. The AGM will include the election of office bearers. Any nominations (by current members of the CAV) for the following positions should reach the Honorary Secretary (email preferred: koc@unimelb.edu.au) by 14 October: president, secretary, treasurer and council members. Nominations should be signed by the nominee and seconded. The AGM will include the awarding of the annual Alexander Leeper Prize for the highest-achieving undergraduate Classics honours student in the state of Victoria. Alexander Leeper in 1876 became the first Warden of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, and in 1912 became the first President of the Classical Association of Victoria.

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