A one-year seminar series investigating the uses and disadvantages of concepts of origins and originality for research into classical antiquity.
The pursuit of origins in the Classics is both seductive and suspect. Classicists dig deeply into the past to unearth the prehistory of ancient institutions and practices, interpret texts and works of art to illuminate the understanding of causation within antiquity, and consider the roots of modern concepts in the ancient world. The investigation of origins can yield insight into tangled histories and complex genealogies. Yet the dangers are no less profound: not only can the presentation of an origin suggest teleologies, in which forms are understood through their later development, but the search for origins can have a tendency to pass beyond historical confines into speculation and essentialization. Such doubts have made origins a contested category in modern thought, and provoked a rich critical and philosophical debate about how to understand historical processes. These questions are particularly relevant to the Classics as a broadly historicist discipline, which often investigates origins (or equally, “births” or “emergences”) and as an inquiry into cultures often considered “original.” The discourse of origins invokes fundamental problems of historical thought and research, which the Colloquium proposes to investigate in three broad categories: