Symposium Vesuvianum 2023


Reading Pliny the Elder in the 21st Century

October 13-15, 2023

Villa Vergiliana, Bacoli (NA), Italy


Organizers: Hilary Becker (Binghamton University) and Verity Platt (Cornell University)

Symposium program

Few works are as defined by their reception history as Pliny’s Natural History, as scholars such as Aude Doody and Sarah Blake McHam have amply demonstrated. But what does it mean to read Pliny the Elder today, 2000 years after his birth in 23 CE? This symposium will bring together leading and emerging scholars over three days to explore how Plinian Studies have responded to three prominent ‘turns’ in the 21st century humanities: ecology and environmentalism; materiality and materialisms; and labor and production. As a work of natural science that subsumes the visual arts into its sweeping account of natura, the Natural History encompasses multiple complementary and conflicting discourses about extraction and consumption, in ways that invite reflection on the relationship between Roman imperialism and proto-environmentalism, as well as historicist questions about ‘nature before nature.’ Likewise, Pliny’s focus on materials has generated much recent scholarship about the relationship between art and materiality within and beyond the Natural History; but how do the materialist underpinnings of Pliny’s art history (so often excerpted and read in isolation) relate to the broader investments of the work as a whole? Finally, questions about labor, production, and industry allow us to explore the relationships Pliny draws between materials, trade, and questions of economic and moral value: read through the lens of recent work on enslavement in antiquity, the production of the Natural History itself can be opened up to new questions about the ethics of Roman literary production alongside the material history of the book.

Keynote speakers:

  • Gianfranco Adornato, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa; Principal Investigator, Oltre Plinio Project: “The Great Beauty of Nature: Pliny and his legacy”
  • Eva Falaschi, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa; Scientific Coordinator, Oltre Plinio Project: “Pliny and the Description of the Americas”
  • Joseph Howley, Columbia University: “Magnae operae: reading Pliny and Pliny’s reading in the age of generative AI”

Symposium Vesuvianum 2023 Flyer (for printing/sharing)