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Occasional Talks Abstracts 2019-2020


Stephen Greenblatt (Harvard University)


Living with Others: Religious Tolerance and its Enemies - CANCELLED DUE TO COVID

6 April 2020, 17:00-18:30
Badia, Refettorio



My focus is a little-known dialogue from the year 192 CE that depicts three friends taking a walk along the beach in Ostia. One of the friends casually blows a kiss toward the statue of a god, and his companions, both Christian, undertake to “save” him from worshipping the god of his choice. The issue is not a form of behavior that violates a social norm: orgies, cannibalism, ritual scarring, genital mutilation, animal sacrifice, and the like. The act that the Christians want to stop is altogether personal and seemingly harmless. But it will, they are convinced, destroy his soul, and in the end they succeed in getting him to convert. I argue that in this tiny initial shift – an attempt to help a friend – one can witness the whole Roman world beginning to change. Empire-wide, pluralistic absorption of every god and all cults is eventually displaced by massive, single-minded persecution in the name of the one true god. The change is often attributed to the conversion of the emperor Constantine, but it is, I argue, already visible in what the dialogue depicts as an act of love.

About the speaker

Stephen Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of fourteen books, including Tyrant: Shakespeare on PoliticsThe Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern; Shakespeare's Freedom; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Marvelous Possessions; and Renaissance Self-Fashioning. He is General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and of The Norton Shakespeare, has edited seven collections of criticism, and is a founding editor of the journal Representations. His honors include the 2016 Holberg Prize from the Norwegian Parliament, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the 2011 National Book Award for The Swerve, MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize (twice), Harvard University’s Cabot Fellowship, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, Yale’s Wilbur Cross Medal, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. Among his named lecture series are the Adorno Lectures in Frankfurt, the University Lectures at Princeton, and the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford, and he has held visiting professorships at universities in Beijing, Kyoto, London, Paris, Florence, Torino, Trieste, and Bologna, as well as the Renaissance residency at the American Academy in Rome. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and a long-term fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. He has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Philosophical Society, and the Italian literary academy Accademia degli Arcadi.


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