James Russell, one of the leading psychologists of emotion today, has written in Emotion Review 4 (2012), the journal of the International Society for Research on Emotion: “Emotion researchers face a scandal: We have not agreed upon definition for the term—emotion—that defines our field. We therefore do not know what events count as examples of emotion and what events theories of emotion must explain”. But is the concept of emotion in fact unitary? Do all cultures have a concept corresponding to “emotion” in many modern languages? Do the terms even in these languages identify a uniform idea? Are the individual emotions perceived and experienced uniformly across cultures, and are they bundled in the same way under a single heading? These questions are central to the historical and comparative study of emotions, a flourishing field that is nevertheless still in its infancy. In my presentation, I will illustrate some of the ways in which emotions, and the very idea of emotion, vary across cultures, taking as my primary example ancient Greece but venturing as well into other linguistic traditions.
David Konstan received a B.A. in mathematics; in the senior year of college, he began ancient Greek and Latin, and went on to obtain a doctorate in classics. He first taught classics at Wesleyan University, where he was also the director of its humanities program. He was appointed Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Brown University in 1987. From 1992 to 2010, he was the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition. He also taught in the Graduate Faculty of Theatre, Speech, and Dance. In 2010 he joined the Department of Classics at New York University. His research focuses on ancient Greek and Latin literature, especially comedy and the novel, and classical philosophy. In recent years, he has investigated the emotions and value concepts of classical Greece and Rome. He has also written on ancient physics and atomic theory and on literary theory, and has translated Seneca’s two tragedies about Hercules into verse. Selected publications: The Origin of Sin: Greece and Rome, Early Judaism and Christianity (2022); In the Orbit of Love: Affection in Ancient Greece and Rome (2018); Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea (2014); Before Forgiveness: The Origins of a Moral Idea (2010); The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (2006); Pity Transformed (2001); Friendship in the Classical World (1997); Greek Comedy and Ideology (1995); Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genre (1994); Roman Comedy (1983).