Call for papers: Polemics, Rivalry and Networking in Greco-Roman Antiquity

 Polemics, Rivalry and Networking in Greco-Roman Antiquity


Leuven, 12-14 December 2018


 (submission deadline 28 February, 2018)


Disagreement and scholarly dispute are essential to any intellectual development. This holds true for ancient cultures no less than for us today. Greek philosophy has been agonistic from long before the formal constitution of philosophical ‘schools’ in the Hellenistic age. In the classical period, Athens famously served as an intellectual battlefield between Socrates and the sophists, in which a full armory of eristic and elenctic strategies was developed. This confrontation was to become a paradigm for the opposition between rhetorical and philosophical models of education, from Plato and Isocrates to the Second Sophistic and beyond.


The Hellenistic age saw the rise of schools and other, often more informal types of network which committed its members to a core set of doctrines – not only in philosophy (Stoicism, Epicureanism, Skepticism), but also in medicine (dogmatists vs. empiricists), science (mathematical astronomy vs. more philosophical cosmologies), historiography (pragmatic vs. rhetorical and tragic approaches; pro-Roman vs. pro-Carthaginian accounts), grammar (allegoricists vs. literalists), rhetoric (asianism vs. atticism), poetry (epos vs. shorter types of poetry), and theology (traditionalist vs. more liberal approaches). An essential ingredient of this phenomenon is the development of stereotypic depictions of rival schools and fixed patterns of refutations. Many of these depictions and tropes survived the actual debates from which they emerged and the schools against which they were directed, as is apparent from the Platonic and Christian texts from late Antiquity.

In the Hellenistic period, we also witness the emergence of new intellectual centers, like Alexandria, and of increasingly text-based scholarly communities and networks. From the early imperial age onwards, authoritative texts became increasingly important vehicles of wisdom, and written commentaries gradually acquired a central place in philosophical, rhetorical and religious education. Both Christians and pagans adopted polemical strategies in distinguishing between orthodox and heterodox interpretations of their founding texts, thus leading to controversy between authors who often had much more in common than they were ready to admit. In this context, polemical strategies not only served to refute one’s opponents, but also contributed to establishing intra-school identity and intellectual alliances.

The aim of this conference is to study the role that polemical strategies and intellectual controversy have played in the establishment of ancient learned networks, such as philosophical and scientific schools, scholarly and religious communities, literary circles, etc., as well as in the dynamics of intellectual alliances, traditions, and ‘personal’ networks.

(Text by the organizers)

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Philip van der Eijk (Berlin)
  • Peter Gemeinhardt (Göttingen)
  • Pantelis Golitsis (Thessaloniki)
  • Irmgard Männlein-Robert (Tübingen)
  • John Marincola (Florida State University)


Please submit your proposal via email ( by February 28, 2018.

Visit our website (

For all practical details, see the full call for papers.

If you have any questions, please contact or

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