Ashley Hunter is a first-year History MA student. Recently, she had the opportunity to share her research in her paper, “Fake News: Appearance vs. Reality in Ancient Greek and Roman Narrative,” at the 2021 HGSA Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at Stony Brook University.
The theme for this year’s conference is “The Performances of Power: The Liminal Space between Knowledge and Ignorance,” and the panel that I was assigned to was “Constructs of Power & Memory in the Ancient World.”
The abstract for my paper describes how the fall of the Athenian Empire in the late 5th century B.C.E. led to a mountain of speculations by contemporary Athenian philosophers, politicians, and historians about what caused a once-great naval state to fail suddenly. A few centuries later, these Greek theories were influencing certain Romans, who were also reasoning similar questions in the process of their own Republic collapsing. Both the Greek and Roman intellectuals addressed a variety of ideas, puzzles, and themes in response to their decaying system of government. One common thread among these ancient thinkers was deception and the nature of appearance and reality. Greek historian, Thucydides, explores these concepts in his History of the Peloponnesian War and represents the use of argument to reveal opposing principles in a series of dialogues. Greek philosopher, Plato, continued this trend of appearance and reality with the Allegory of the Cave in his Republic. And lastly, inspired by the Greek way of thinking, Roman statesman and political philosopher, Cicero expanded on these notions with the Dream of Scipio in Book VI of his De Republica. The subject of debate relating to these three abstract pieces of literature is whether or not there is some sort of connection between the notions of appearance and reality and the collapse of the allegedly excellent political systems of the Athenian Empire and the Roman Republic.
Overall, the conference went well and there were a lot of interesting presentations and discussions. Other topics on my panel included: Slave women in Classical Athens; and the power of memory during the Fourth Crusade. After my own speech, I was requested to expand on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” and Cicero’s De Republica. I also explained how unique it was to see Thucydides through a philosophical lens whether than just as a source for understanding certain historical events.