Sunday, November 27, 2011

Coming to terms

This will be the last week of the Michaelmas term.  It is always very busy.  In addition to the usual week's teaching (lectures, supervisions, MPhil seminar, research seminar, B Club) and meetings (College executive body) in our wisdom we choose this as the week for the first examiners' meeting of the year to prepare for the Tripos exams in the summer and also the submission of the first MPhil essays for marking.  It is also the week to meet and talk to all my philosophy students in Corpus and my tutees, to go over the term and set work for the vacation.

It is also the week before the admissions interviews for next year's undergraduates begin.  That means that there is no slack whatsoever for things to spill over into the next week because we will be busy making decisions and interviewing candidates.

This term has been particularly punishing.  I've taken on more teaching than I should and lost a few days to an -- excellent, it has to be said -- conference in the middle.

But more than that, I have been struggling day by day since my Mum died in October.  The funeral was difficult, of course, but that was an acute sadness.  Worse than that is the fact that there has been a constant feeling of sheer exhaustion dogging me ever since we heard she was ill in September.  Perhaps I should have stopped and taken some time off.  But, strangely, I have felt better at work than at home, talking to people who aren't my family about things not to do with my family, and thinking about things that are more disconnected from the loss.  The weekends are the hardest.  And now Christmas...  I'm not the most festive of people in any case, but I really don't want Christmas this year.  It will be strange, no doubt, and sad for us all.  As will every birthday without her, and every new year, and every milestone her grand-daughters pass.  We'll all stick together and we'll get through it.  But the mince pies don't seem very appetising right now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cicero, De Finibus 2.105

Here’s the relevant bit: 
quid, si etiam iucunda memoria est praeteritorum malorum? ut proverbia non nulla veriora sint quam vestra dogmata. vulgo enim dicitur: 'Iucundi acti labores', nec male Euripides— concludam, si potero, Latine; Graecum enim hunc versum nostis omnes—: 'Suavis laborum est praeteritorum memoria.'
 Rackham translates:
What if the memory of past evils be actually pleasant? Proving certain proverbs truer than the tenets of your school. There is a popular saying to the effect that ‘Toil is pleasant when ‘tis over’; and Euripides well writes (I will attempt a verse translation; the Greek line is known to you all): 'Sweet is the memory of sorrows past'. 
 Cicero is criticising the Epicureans’ insistence that memory of past psychic pleasures can counteract present physical pains. He notes that not everything that was painful in the past is painful to remember. He translates a line from Euripides (taken usually to be 133 Nauck 2nd edition). The Greek, found at Arist. Rhet. 1370b4 and at Plut. Quaest. Conv. 630E is: ἀλλ’ ἡδύ τοι σωθέντα μεμνῆσθαι πόνων. 

Anyway, I was checking what some commentators say about this. Madvig says (I think; the pdf is a bit blurry): 

nosti omnes Cicero dixit, oblitus videtur, quot sermoni interesse finxisset; nam ut intellegatur: vos omnes Epicurei, quemadmodum Gaius [sic?] volt, fieri non potest, quom, cur illi versum esse sententiae plane contrarium praeter ceteros memoria retinerent, nulla caussa fuerit.’ (This is the from the 1839 edition I found on the internets; I have checked later editions.) 

It seems to me that Cicero could mean ‘all you Epicureans know the line’. If he does, then he poses a dilemma: either they remember the line but seem to have ignored the sentiment or they do not remember the line, in which case their powers of and control over their memory leaves something to be desired. It might also be interesting to wonder whether Cicero has quite remembered the line himself: the σωθέντα in Aristotle’s quotations does not appear in his version. Perhaps he’s being super clever and anyone who does remember the Euripides line in the original will also note that Cicero’s memory is less than accurate here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Corbett Lecture 2011

Yesterday was the Faculty's annual Corbett lecture.  This year's speaker was Julia Annas, and her lecture was: 'Changing from within: Plato's later political thinking'.  You should be able to listen to it here and download a handout here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Keeling over

I was at the UCL Keeling colloquium at the beginning of the week.  It was an excellent conference and it made me think about what makes a conference good.  I think there are various possibilities, and they aren't by any means all related to the excellence of the content of the papers or talks being presented.  I certainly don't like conferences that are too big.  I like to think that I've spoken to or met everyone there, more or less, by the end.  That way it feels like a properly shared social enterprise.  And I don't like conferences that are too long.  Three days is plenty, usually, because any less isn't really long enough to feel properly immersed and much longer is too exhausting if you're thinking hard.

In the end, my thoughts about good conferences came down on other characteristics that are important to a gathering's success.  It's important to have time outside the formal bits to chat, make friends, gossip about jobs and the like (lots of all of those at the Keeling) and, perhaps most of all, to make the job a more interpersonal one.  Fortunately, my field is small enough that over time we do mostly get to meet each other properly.  And it seems to me important to remember that, alongside all the high-minded stuff about pursuing the truth and the importance of following an argument wherever it leads, it's important to remember that the article you're reading and criticising what written by a person, after all.  And putting faces and voices and personalities to the names in journals and on book-shelves is rather useful too.  We can still engage critically and robustly with one another's work, of course, but writing that footnote that begins 'Pace X...' or 'As X mistakenly claims...' feels very different once you've had dinner with X and talked about his or her kids or shared a joke.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

CFP: Truth, falsehood, and deception in ancient philosophy

Here is a call for papers for a conference in Cambridge next spring.  It is organised and run by some of our excellent graduate students and will be the second such event.

20th-21st April, 2012

The history of logic, philosophy of language, ethics and metaphysics are suffused with the themes of truth, falsehood and deception. We welcome work focusing on said issues, broadly construed. Papers may focus on particular thinkers, individual texts, or broader traditions from the pre-Socratics up to and including Philoponus. Diachronic studies are also welcome. The conference is aimed at advanced graduate students and junior researchers (those who are within 3 years of their PhD). We invite abstracts of up to 500 words (for papers of up to 3500 words). Depending on the quality of submissions, we aim to allow for 6-8 papers. Each paper will be followed by a brief response. To submit a paper, please send an electronic abstract of 500 words to the committee by 5th January 2012. Notification will be made by 27th January. Abstracts should be in .pdf format, and prepared for blind review. Please include a one-word pseudonym (such as your mother's maiden name) in the file name of your .pdf. Please email submissions and questions to Matthew Duncombe. The conference is kindly supported by the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Classics.

More information can be found here.