Futures of the Ancient Past
The Hypocritical Figure
A lecture by Nicolette Zeeman, University of Cambridge
Co-sponsored with the Department of English and the Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe
Paradiastole (the description of a virtue in terms of its adjacent vice, or the reverse) is a rhetorical figure that has been associated with early modern ethical uncertainty and philosophical scepticism. However, in fact it is deeply embedded in medieval moral, pastoral and devotional thought, part of a constellation of discourses that include the vice that looks like a virtue and the internally contradictory hypocritical personification. These all turn out to be master tropes of Piers Plowman, where they articulate much of the poem’s moral anxiety and may also be part of its dialectical or ‘negating’ modes of thought.
Futures of the Ancient Past looks in two directions: forward, to new and emerging trends in Classics, and backward, across centuries of other efforts to promote, contest, or redirect antiquity’s continuing influence. It thus aims to illuminate an unfamiliar history of what Classics has been, as well as to generate a new vision of what it might become.