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Faculty Work-in-Progress: “Tears of Compassion in Classical Athens”

The Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities will host the next Faculty Work-in-Progress, titled “Tears of Compassion in Classical Athens,” Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Clark Hall, Room 206.

Those who plan to attend can register on the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities website.

About the lecture

Rachel Sternberg, associate professor in the Department of Classics, will argue that Plato’s criticism of tragedy reflected a significant change he observed during his lifetime (c. 429-347 BCE): that men were crying more freely than they had in his childhood and youth, a change he blamed (plausibly) on the emotionally stirring effects of poetry.

Work by cultural anthropologist William M. Reddy supports interpreting this possibility via analogy with a shift that occurred in late 18th-century France as people learning empathy from an energetic new literary genre—the novel—became more sympathetic and began to cry much more than previously.

Reddy theorizes that the moment created a new “emotional regime” that changed the entire culture. Sternberg suggests that in the fifth century BCE, an energetic new genre—tragic drama—taught empathy, drew tears and changed the culture of Athens.