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Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values XIII

From:Th 12-06-2025
Until:Sa 14-06-2025
Where:Leiden - t.b.a.

CALL FOR PAPERS: The Values of Language(s) in the Ancient World

The topic of the thirteenth colloquium, to be held at Leiden University, June 12-14, 2025, will be: The Values of Language(s) in the Ancient World.

The poet Ennius used to say that he had three hearts, because he knew how to speak Greek, Oscan, and Latin (Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 17.17.1). Language is who we are and who we want to be: this is true in ancient times as well as in the contemporary world. While language as such is crucial for human communities to survive, language diversity can be a cause of dispute: the story of the Tower of Bable has never lost its significance. In the ancient Greek world, reflections on the nature and power of language can be found from the poems of Homer and Hesiod onwards. Logos was one of the most prominent objects of research for the presocratic philosophers, sophists, Plato, Aristotle, and Stoics; Greek and Roman grammarians, rhetoricians, and critics thought about language as a system of signs, as a method of communication, and as a tool for persuasion.

This conference will examine the ways in which Greeks and Romans valued language in general, their own languages, and other languages. What values are connected with Greek and Latin terms like λόγος, γλῶσσα, διάλεκτος, lingua, sermo, and oratio? How does language acquire sociocultural value within specific Greek or Roman contexts? What are the values or powers ascribed to language in general, to language diversity, and to specific languages? Ancient and modern voices have tended to associate the Greek language with such values as precision, euphony, and paideia; the Latin language in its turn has been thought to express order, rationality, and monumentality. Such evaluations are now considered analytically flawed; but the subjective connotations of languages do reveal how human beings understood and presented themselves and others.

Lucretius famously complains about the poverty of the Latin language (patrii sermonis egestas). How did Romans think about the language of the Greeks, and how did Greeks evaluate Latin? What are some of the Greek and Roman prejudices about ‘barbarian’ languages? What policies were adopted to discourage the use of languages other than Greek or Latin, such as Syrian, Hebrew or Etruscan? How did language values structure understandings of racial and ethnic difference, of class difference, and of gender? In what circumstances was it acceptable for Romans to speak Greek? Why was Latin sometimes considered to be a corrupt form of Greek? What narratives were told about migrants who struggled to speak the language of their hosts, or about people who were fluent in two or more languages, like Ennius? How did anthropocentrism shape the understanding of language in the ancient world? Through these and further questions the conference will examine how language and languages were valued in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.

Papers may address ancient perspectives on the languages of gods, human beings, animals, and even nature. They may discuss the values of written, spoken and body languages, ancient reflections on the nature, origins, and histories of languages, and ancient views on bilingualism, multilingualism, language diversity, and hierarchies of languages or dialects. We are interested in literary, philosophical, and rhetorical approaches to language, but also in ancient language politics, including regulations for the use of language in contexts of law, education, religion, migration, and administration.

‘The Values of Language(s)’ is a highly relevant topic in our contemporary society, in which questions of languages are contested issues. Examples include the call for linguistic integration and participation of minority groups and the (political and academic) debates about the use of English at Dutch universities.

This conference will not only celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Penn-Leiden Colloquia on Ancient Values, but also pay tribute to prof. Ineke Sluiter, co-founder (with Ralph Rosen) of the Penn-Leiden Colloquia. Ineke Sluiter is co-organizer of many of the colloquia, co-editor of many volumes, and one of the world’s leading scholars of ancient views on language.

We invite abstracts for papers (25 minutes + 10 minutes discussion) that address the values ascribed to language(s) in the ancient world. We hope to bring together junior and senior researchers in all areas of ancient world studies, including literature, philosophy, linguistics, history, and visual and material culture, and hope to discover the significant points of intersection and difference between these areas of focus.

Selected papers will be considered for publication by De Gruyter Brill. Those interested in presenting a paper are requested to submit an abstract of 300 words (maximum) in English, as email attachment, by 1 October 2024. Unfortunately, the organizers will probably not be able to recompense travel expenses. They hope, but cannot promise to be able to offer some assistance for accommodation.

Contact (please copy each with email correspondence):

Rita Copeland and Casper de Jonge