The Invention of Sin

Professor David Konstan

Public Lecture
Wednesday, 8 November, 2017, 6:15
Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre A, The University of Melbourne

What if English lacked the word “sin,” with its religious connotations and Judeo-Christian heritage, and had only words like “fault,” “error,” “crime” and the like? For this is the precisely case with the ancient Greek word ‘hamartia’ – a perfectly common term meaning “fault” (as in Aristotle’s famous “tragic flaw”), but which, when it appears in English translations of the Bible, is almost invariably rendered as “sin.” Is there something in the Biblical context that justifies the use of a special word in English? How do we know that ‘hamartia’ should be translated differently in pagan and Judeo-Christian contexts? In his talk, David Konstan addresses the question of when, how, and whether error and wrongdoing acquired the specific sense that we associate with the word “sin.”

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University. Among his publications are Greek Comedy and Ideology (Oxford, 1995); Friendship in the Classical World (Cambridge, 1997); Pity Transformed (London, 2001); The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (Toronto, 2006); “A Life Worthy of the Gods”: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (Las Vegas, 2008); Before Forgiveness: The Origins of a Moral Idea (Cambridge, 2010); and Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea (Oxford, 2014). He is a past president of the American Philological Association (now the Society for Classical Studies), and a vice president of the Bristol Institute of Greece, Rome & the Classical Tradition. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

This lecture is part of the public lecture program of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies (SHAPS) at the University of Melbourne.

To register your attendance at this free public lecture, go to

For further information please contact Emily Forster: