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Plato's Myths: Tools for Thinking Conference

Thursday 18 January 2024 - Saturday 20 January 2024
P. J. Veth Building and Lipsius Buidling
Nonnensteeg 1-3 & Cleveringaplaats 1
P. J. Veth: 1.01 - Lipsius: 0.05

The striking and wonderful myths in Plato’s oeuvre have always received special attention in Platonic scholarship, from Antiquity to modern day. Recent studies have elucidated their educational and philosophical value and their functions both in their immediate dialectical context and in Plato’s paideutic project as a whole. Plato’s myths, among other things, aim to inspire morality, try to visualize and concretize certain ideas, and help to grasp complicated philosophical concepts. They can be regarded as tools that one can use to complement the intellectual instruments of reason and dialectic.  
In this conference, taking our cue from Levi-Strauss’ characterization of myth as ‘bon à penser’, we want to focus on the creative reception of Plato’s myths as tools for thinking. For many centuries, the philosopher’s myths have stimulated people to (philosophical) reflection, offering narratives and images to understand, visualize and verbalize their own thoughts, often on wholly different phenomena and ideas. Modern examples of such instrumentalization of Platonic imagery are Nick Carr’s use of the myth of Theuth to reflect on ‘what the internet is doing to our brain’ (The Shallows, 2010), Jonathan Haidt’s use of Plato’s chariot of the soul (The Happiness Hypothesis, 2006), and Melissa Lane’s use of the allegory of the cave to understand the modern approach to the climate crisis (Eco-Republic, 2012). Examples abound, from the Neoplatonists to Ficino and Cassirer, and are not limited to philosophers and thinkers, but include creative writing and the visual arts. 
In this conference, we aim at exploring the many-faceted reception of Plato’s myths as tools for imaginative thinking. We welcome papers that deal explicitly with the way thinkers, artists, and other creative minds from all ages have taken Platonic myths as inspiration for their own philosophical or artistic vision. Papers ought to explore how the Platonic myth’s power as a tool for thinking has been taken further and/or expanded to other areas of thought; we invite contributors to reflect on how recreations of Plato’s myths ‘take off’ from the source material, and harness its imaginative and cognitive force to approach and grapple with their own subject. This creative engagement with Plato’s myths is not restricted to philosophical texts, but may also involve other types of texts or other media such as films and plays. Contributions can focus on a particular myth and a particular case of philosophical and/or creative reception, or take a broader approach.  
We are delighted to announce prof. Mauro Bonazzi (Utrecht University), prof. Tae-Yeoun Keum (University of California, Santa Barbara) and prof. Vasilis Politis (Trinity College Dublin) as keynote speakers of the conference. 

Conference Programme

Thursday, January 18th

P.J. Veth gebouw, Nonnensteeg 1-3, room 1.01

9.45: Registration
10.30: Welcome and introduction: Bert van den Berg & Hugo Koning

Damien Nelis (University of Geneva)                    
‘Plato in Aeneid 6 and Vergil’s Elysian Vision of Rome’

Stephen Kidd (Brown University, Rhode Island)
‘Plato’s Myth of Er in Lucian’s Rooster


Keynote: Tae-Yeoun Keum (University of California, Santa Barbara)
‘Reading Plato’s Myths in the Shadow of Fascism’


Wiebke-Marie Stock (University of Notre Dame, Indiana)                            
‘Plotinus on Plato’s Myth of Er’
Maria Iordana Toulika (University of Utrecht)   
‘Seferis’ Tyrant and the Myth of Er’
Joseph Forte (Rivier University, New Hampshire)
‘The Myth of Er and the ‘True Earth’ Myth as Tools for Thinking About Freedom and Hope in Light of Modern Naturalism’

Friday, January 19th

P.J. Veth gebouw, Nonnensteeg 1-3, room 1.01

Keynote: Mauro Bonazzi (Utrecht University)
‘Hannah Arendt in the Cave’


Karen Bassi (University of California, Santa Cruz)
‘The Fear of Death, the Noble Lie, and Men Made of Metal: Post-Truth in Plato’s Republic
Geoff Bakewell (Rhodes College, Tennessee)
‘The Republic’s Myths in Recent Films: Das Leben der Anderen, Divergent, Cloud Atlas


Sébastien Morlet (Sorbonne University)
‘Ancient Christians and Plato’s Myths: the Evidence from Greek Christian Texts’
Lieve Teugels (Utrecht University)
‘The Early Jewish and Christian Reception of the Myth of the Architect’ 
Piet Gerbrandy (University of Amsterdam)
‘Plato’s Timaeus transformed: the Case of Bernard Silvestris’ Cosmographia


Casper de Jonge (Leiden University)
‘Plato’s Chariot Allegory and the Sublime’
Sara Ahbel-Rappe (University of Michigan)
‘The Aesthetics of Platonic Furor in Bruno’s Italian Novels: Bruno’s Reading of the Phaedrean Charioteer’
Caterina Fossi (University of Amsterdam)
‘Plato’s winged Chariot in Coetzee’s Jesus Trilogy: Literature’s Journey toward Transcendence’

Saturday, January 20th

Lipsius Building, Cleveringaplaats 1, room 0.05

Keynote: Vasilis Politis (Trinity College, Dublin)
title to be announced


Tobias Joho (Bern University)
‘Goethe’s Elective Affinities and the Myths of Plato’s Symposium
Azzan Yadin-Israel (Rutgers University, New Jersey)
‘Milosz’s Symposium: Aristophanes’ Myth and Diotima’s Ascent’


Caterina Sessini (Utrecht University)
‘Return to Myth: Nietzsche’s Reception of Plato’s mythical Imagery in Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Rasmus Sevelsted (University of Copenhagen)
‘Kierkegaard on Plato’s Myths and the taut Sensuousness of Philosophy’
Will Desmond (Maynooth University)
Phaedo and Moby Dick: Two philosophical Myths’

Wrapping up and goodbyes

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