A conference hosted by the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge University
Friday 14th March, 14.00 - 18.30
Saturday 15th March, 9.30 - 17.15
Speakers include: Patrick Cheney (Penn State), Philip Hardie (Cambridge), Richard Hunter
(Cambridge), Charles Martindale (Bristol), James Porter (Michigan), Andrew Laird (Warwick),
Alessandro Schiesaro (La Sapienza, Rome), Philip Shaw (Leicester), Michael Silk (KCL)
What is the sublime? Influentially theorised by Burke and Kant in the 18th century, the concept
has recently attracted postmodern and Lacanian analysis from philosophers such as Derrida,
Lyotard and Zizek. An aesthetic once exploited by Coleridge, Turner and the Romantics, the
sublime today finds a home in the paintings of Barnett Newman and the films of David Lynch. The
sublime’s classical roots, however, have been largely neglected and this conference aims to
redress the balance, with discussion focusing on classical theorisations of the sublime (most
notably Ps.-Longinus’s seminal treatise Peri Hypsous), on representations of the sublime in
classical literature, and on the influence of these classical formulations on later understandings of
the sublime. By establishing a cultural frame for the sublime different to those usually adopted,
the conference aims to suggest new ways of understanding the concept. Conversely, consideration
of ancient texts in terms of the long tradition of literature on and of the sublime will hopefully
prompt fresh perspectives on these texts, their particular aesthetic modes, and these modes’
wider cultural implications. Questions and problems underlying these aims include:
- The locus of sublime experience. Burke associated the sublime with natural phenomena such as
mountains, sea-storms and chasms, but what were the ancient hallmarks of sublimity?
- The representation of the sublime. How did ancient literature handle the problem of the
- The relationship between the Classical and the Sublime. The two aesthetics have often been
opposed to each other, so what does it mean to talk about a ‘Classical Sublime’?
- Aesthetic continuity. Are there grounds for establishing parity between the sublime in ancient
and post-Classical art?
- The relationship between the aesthetic and the ideological. Does the aesthetic analysis of
Classical literature need rehabilitation? Can aesthetics be legitimately separated from ideology? Is
the sublime itself a valid category, or merely the marker of a bankrupt search for transcendence?
Registration for the conference is now open. For visitors from outside Cambridge there is a charge
of £15 per delegate, payable on arrival, to cover the cost of refreshments. Please address all
bookings and enquiries to Henry Day (hjmd2 AT cam.ac.uk), including in your email your name,
university and degree for which enrolled or position. The closing date for registration is 7th March.
Please note that the organisers are unfortunately unable to provide overnight accommodation for