The ancient Greeks’ conception of fear, and of the emotions generally, does not correspond precisely to modern accounts. For Aristotle, fear, like all emotions, is cognitive and intentional. As such, it depends on rational judgments of what constitutes a danger (hence non-rational animals and immature human beings cannot experience fear) and that the judgment is an inseparable constituent of the emotion (hence one cannot speak of a mere “feeling” of fear). This view, while powerful, renders the idea of anxiety problematic to the extent that anxiety is free-floating and has no apparent object. In the generation after Aristotle, Epicurus maintained that an irrational fear of death continually haunts the majority of mankind (it is irrational because death cannot harm us and hence it is not a danger). Though Epicurus retains a cognitive interpretation of fear, Konstan suggest that this irrational fear approximates the modern sense of anxiety.
David Konstan first taught classics at Wesleyan University, where he was also the director of its Humanities Program. He became Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Brown University in 1987. Since 1992, he has been the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition. Professor Konstan also teaches in the Graduate Faculty of Theatre, Speech, and Dance. His works include Roman Comedy (1983); Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres (1994); Greek Comedy and Ideology (1995); Friendship in the Classical World (1997); Pity Transformed (2001); and The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (2006).