• Founded
  • Seminar Number

This seminar exists to further, in the New York area, the study of the literature, art, archaeology, and history of the ancient world. Seven meetings are held each year attended by twenty to sixty members drawn from universities and colleges within reach of New York. There is no set theme to the seminar for a given semester or year.

Professor Marcus Folch

Professor Joel Lidov

Lien Van Geel

Meeting Schedule

10/21/2021 Online Meeting
5:30 PM
Do you hear what I hear? Philodemus’ critique of Diogenes of Babylon’s theory of musical perception and moral character
David Blank, University of California, Los Angeles


Philodemus’ On Music IV is a systematic presentation and demolition of the work of the Stoic Diogenes of Babylon on music, and particularly on the use of music to mold moral character and put people on track to better behavior. Philodemus goes through DIogenes’ book quoting its various contentions and theories (columns 1-55 Delattre), then ridicules, rebuts, and refutes them one by one (columns 56-152).

One bit of Diogenes’ theory that has attracted particular scholarly attention holds (col. 34) that there are two kinds of ‘perception’, a ‘native’ (αὐτοφυὴς) perception and a ‘knowledgeable’ or ‘scientific’ (ἐπιστημονικὴ αἴσθησις) one. With the former we perceive primary qualities of sound, such as high or low pitch; with knowledgeable perception those who have learned how to do so can perceive things like the harmonious and the discordant.

In this paper, I propose to read Philodemus critique of Diogenes’ theory in light of his tendentious Epicurean understanding of the Stoic theory of perception, which is fragmentarily preserved in a work thought to be his ‘On Sensations’ (PHerc. 19/698, ed. Monet). Philodemus takes up the two kinds of perception (PHerc. 1497 col. 115), not on its own, in order to refute the idea that we can learn to perceive the harmonious and discordant—that would be bad enough for the Epicurean, who thinks that hearing remains solely in the ear and that if it also involved the mind, it would spoil Epicurus’ thesis that all perceptions are true. Instead, Philodemus rebuts the theory of knowledgeable perception to open the door to his fundamental critique of Diogenes’ theory that music is intrinsically ‘ethical’ and contains ‘similarities, but not imitations of characters’ (cols. 116 ff.). In the course of the paper, I revise the text of columns 34 and 115 and proceed to look more closely at both Diogenes’ theory of the ethical character of music, which harks back to Plato and Damon of Oia, and at Philodemus’ refutation of it.

11/11/2021 Online Meeting
7:30 PM
Phoenicians and the “Orientalizing Kit:” New Perspectives on the Iron Age Mediterranean
Carolina López-Ruiz, Ohio State University


In the early first millennium BCE the Mediterranean saw deep cultural and economic changes, as the Phoenicians wove new commercial and colonial networks and built on pre-existing ones. This unprecedented connectivity allowed Iron Age groups such as Greeks, Etruscans, Sardinians, Cypriots, and Iberians to join in a new international koine that included urbanization, alphabetization, monumental architecture, and shared artistic tastes labeled “orientalizing” by art-historians. By contextualizing the Phoenician expansion and restoring their agency (particularly that of Tyre), and by focusing on select cultural artefacts, sphinxes and volute capitals among them, López-Ruiz argues that Phoenician encounters with local groups lie behind a selectively adopted “orientalizing kit” across the Mediterranean. These interactions transformed Iron Age cultures in profound ways, and yet the Phoenician role has often been diluted as part of a vague wave of “Near Eastern” influence, hence these historical actors are poorly integrated in our Mediterranean histories, especially among classicists. ­At the same time, looking at this new Mediterranean through Phoenician lenses offers us the unique opportunity to step back from our well-trodden Hellenocentric and Eurocentric perspectives and reconstruct an alternative narrative that recenters other local groups, not those who wrote our prevailing histories.

01/20/2022 Online Meeting
6:00 PM
The Consulate of 346 c.e.
Alan Ross, Columbia University


The changes to the Roman state brought about by Constantine were embedded thanks to the survival of his dynasty after his death. This paper challenges the dominance of Christian sources to our understanding of the political history of the rule of Constantine’s sons in the 340s. Bringing to light overlooked numismatic evidence, it argues that discrepancies in the consular fasti during the 340s are not evidence for the intrusion of ecclesiastical politics upon one of Rome’s oldest political offices (as commonly thought). Rather, they arose from attempted reforms to the way that imperial time and space were marked in the post-Constantinian age.

02/24/2022 Online Meeting
7:30 PM
Trifling with Catullus
Ellen Oliensis, University of California, Berkeley


This talk will focus on two poems by Catullus that epitomize the “nugatoriness” he ascribes to his work in his poem to Nepos. These poems (9, to Veranius, and 32, to Ipsitilla) are not “strangely neglected”: if they have passed largely undiscussed, it is because they appear to have, and perhaps actually do have, no claim on our attention. This paper takes them up, accordingly, as exemplary instances of what might be termed the radical insignificance of lyric poetry. What if anything, aside from their inclusion in the Catullan corpus, makes these trifles count as poems, and as Catullan poems in particular?

03/24/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
The Greek Commonwealth: Zimmern, Athens, and Empire
Timothy Rood, University of Oxford (England, UK)


Alfred Zimmern’s The Greek Commonwealth (1911) is one of the most famous studies of Athenian history in the first half of the twentieth century; re-printed several times until the 1960s, it has been read and admired by figures as diverse as Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Jawaharlal Nehru, and C.L.R. James. In recent years it has attracted much attention from scholars of the history of International Relations, owing to Zimmern’s later involvement in the formation of the League of Nations and in the emergence of IR as a discipline. Drawing on archival sources, this paper explores the promotion of Zimmern’s book as an archetype of the ‘new Hellenism’ and sets the work in its various institutional and political contexts. It will focus in particular on the strengths and weaknesses of recent arguments that Zimmern’s presentation of the Athenian empire is to be read as a modernizing charter for imperial Britain.

04/21/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Lyric Letters: Reading Epistolarity in Catullus' Polymetrics
Emilia Barbiero, New York University