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Berg, Bert van den

Berg, Bert van den


Bert van den Berg, born in Amsterdam, in 1970. Ph.D. from Leiden University. Lecturer in Classics at Leiden University.

Fellow (1 Sept 2016 – 31 Jan 2017)

Why Good Poems Make Good Persons: Neoplatonists on the Educational Qualities of Literature

Research Question

Moralizing literature, e.g. maxims and edifying stories, both in prose and verse has always been a populair device to educate the young to become good people. But how can literature do this? This project examines the answers that the the Neoplatonic philosophers (300-600 CE) came up with and confronts these with modern philosophical speculations about moral education.

Project Description

Catchy phrases and brief stories can cast an almost magical spell on us. Just think of the power of slogans, both commercial one and those aimed at the public good. In antiquity people relied on this mechanism to educate their children. In fact a substantial part of Greek literature consists of maxims and other sorts of moralizing texts. The Neoplatonists incorporated this genre in their educational program of aspiring philosophers as a sort of necessary preparation. They asked themselves such questions as: How exactly does it influence the human soul? Can this sort of popular morality be squared with refined philosophical ethics? If literature can indeed be a force for the good, what are we to make from Plato’s infamous attacks on poetry?

Selected Publications

Berg R.M. van den (2008), Proclus’ Commentary on the Cratylus in Context:  Ancient Theories of Language and Naming . Leiden/Boston: Brill.

Berg R.M. van den (2001), Proclus’ Hymns. Essays, Translations, Commentary. Leiden / Boston / Köln: Brill.

Berg R.M. van den (2014), Proclus and Iamblichus on Moral Education, Phronesis (59): 272-296.

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