Thursday, June 27, 2013

Another cheer for Cornford

As well as the acute and funny Microcosmographia Aacdemica, F. M. Cornford wrote 'Religion in the University' -- originally presented to a meeting of the Heretics in 1911.  There is a copy here:

Or you can download a pdf of it here.

Interesting stuff.  It's graduation day today at my college and there is an event listed for the afternoon in between tea in the Master's garden and a rehearsal for the graduation ceremony:

4.15pm - 4.50pm: Graduation Service with Master's Address in Chapel

While you are pondering that, here is some Cornford from 1911:
The University ought to stand absolutely clear of all dogmatic systems. The worst thing it can do is to endorse a particular sect, and so bias inquiry either for or against a certain set of beliefs. To do so is to poison and obscure the intellectual atmosphere, and to foster passion where there should be no passion but curiosity.  
And a bit later: 
With regard to Ritual, the Colleges maintain Anglican chapels and officials whose duty it is to persuade or compel attendance at them. To this system all the same objections apply, as well as others peculiar to it. It is not the business of a University or of a College to maintain one form of creed. If they had an Anglican chapel, they ought also to have a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Baptist chapel and so on, with an official attached to each. Either that or none at all. It would be said that there were historical reasons : but there is no such thing. There are historical causes, but they are not reasons. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Philosophers Rejected

There is a new blog collecting rejection letters sent to some of the great and the good.

You can read it here and share the pain.  There is a general call for submissions, so this is an excellent way to vent your spleen against some classic work that you've had to wrestle with and interpret 'charitably' while your own work is being mauled by some anonymous reviewer who feels it is part of his/her job to take the most uncharitable view of everything you have said...

While you are on that subject, here is a collection of rejections sent to people who went on to do quite well.

And then, of course, there is the excellent long-running Journal of Universal RejectionIt also has a blog.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Free Taster Day for Classics and Latin

Saturday 22nd June 2013

The aim of this ‘taster day’ is to give prospective applicants for a Classics Degree at the University of Cambridge the opportunity to experience teaching in a University environment and to decide whether learning Latin is something that they would enjoy.

The day is open to anyone who has never studied Latin at School or 6th Form College.

The day is FREE. At the moment we are placing no limit on numbers. (If a limit has to be imposed, we shall accept students in the order in which they book.)

Venue: Faculty of Classics, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA. Light refreshments will be provided. For lunch, the nearest shop is about seven minutes walk away; but students are welcome (and encouraged) to bring a packed lunch.

Up to 50 travel bursaries of up to £50.00 are available on a first come, first served basis. To apply, please provide details of the cost of your travel arrangements. For those travelling by car, bursaries will be provided only against the cost of petrol. All claims by recipients of bursaries will need to be accompanied by receipts.

10.15–10.45: Registration and coffee
10.45–11.40: Learning Latin I
11.45–12.00 Break
12.00–1.00 Lecture: Preserving Herculaneum (Prof. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill)
1.00–1.45: Lunch
1.45–2.45: Learning Latin II
2.45–3.00: Break
3.00–4.00: Lecture: The Latin language (Dr James Clackson)

Latin tutors:—
Mr Will Griffiths, Director, Cambridge Schools Classics Project
Dr Ailsa Hunt, Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Dr Lyndsay Coo, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
Professor Stephen Oakley, Kennedy Professor of Latin, University of Cambridge

If you would like to attend, please contact Professor Stephen Oakley on If you would like to apply for a travel bursary, please send details of your travel arrangements by e-mail to Professor Stephen Oakley.

Other events for schools and potential applicants are listed here.

Friday, June 07, 2013


Here is some evidence that taking acetaminophen (paracetamol) might lessen the pain of thinking about your own mortality, or at least that it seems to lessen the effects that painful thinking about your own mortality tends to have, or something like that.  Basically, taking a certain kind of pill has an effect on the way you respond to being asked to write about and think about your own death. Interesting, isn't it?  Perhaps it also works against misplaced anxieties about the gods...

Psychol Sci. 2013 Apr 23. [Epub ahead of print]

The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats.


University of British Columbia.


The meaning-maintenance model posits that any violation of expectations leads to an affective experience that motivates compensatory affirmation. We explore whether the neural mechanism that responds to meaning threats can be inhibited by acetaminophen, in the same way that acetaminophen inhibits physical pain or the distress caused by social rejection. In two studies, participants received either acetaminophen or a placebo and were provided with either an unsettling experience or a control experience. In Study 1, participants wrote about either their death or a control topic. In Study 2, participants watched either a surrealist film clip or a control film clip. In both studies, participants in the meaning-threat condition who had taken a placebo showed typical compensatory affirmations by becoming more punitive toward lawbreakers, whereas those who had taken acetaminophen, and those in the control conditions, did not.
You can read the article here.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Oh dear

It turns out that I am middle-aged and have been for some time.  At least, I am middle-aged according to F. M. Cornford who, since he was Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy (indeed, he was the first), must have been a wise and sensible person.

This is how he ends his Microcosmographia academica:
I have done what I could to warn you. When you become middle-aged -- on your five-and-thirtieth birthday -- glance through this book and judge between me and your present self.
He is right at least in so far as I did recognise most everything he has to say about the grubby and silly bits of college and Faculty politicking as still holding true.  And, sad to say, while I may at one time have been a Young Man in a Hurry, I have a horrible feeling I might be turining into a Non-Placet...

(You can read the Microcosmographia here.  There is a nice edition with introduction by Gordon Johnson.)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Posidonius and Plutarch

I've spent the last week at the B caucus 'Mayweek' seminar on Posidonius.  This is what it looked like on the afternoon of day 5:

Photo by Victor Caston
While that was on proceedings were published of a seminar which I attended on Plutarch's Adversus Colotem.  The papers are collected in the third issue of the online journal Aitia, which is free.  You can find the whole volume here (papers can be read online or downloaded) and my piece is here.

UPDATE: Here is a snazzy pdf with the contents of the Aitia volume.

And here is the list of contributions and authors:

Le Contre Colotès de Plutarque et son prologue
Pierre-Marie Morel et Francesco Verde

Democritus and Epicurus on Sensible Qualities in Plutarch’s Against Colotes 3-9
Luca Castagnoli

Plutarque contre Colotès contre Empédocle
Alain Gigandet

Parmenide e Platone (e Aristotele) nel Contro Colote di Plutarco
Mauro Bonazzi

The lives and opinions of Socrates and Stilpo as defended by Plutarch against the insidious yet ignorant attacks of Colotes
 Jan Opsomer

Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem and the Cyrenaics: 1120C-1121E
James Warren

Plutarque juge et partie : à propos des débats entre l’Académie, le Jardin et le Portique
Carlos Lévy

Plutarch’s polemic against Colotes’ view on legislation and politics. A reading of Adversus Colotem 30-34 (1124D-1127E)
Geert Roskam