Lecture Explores the Relationship between Natural History and Art

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., February 25, 2019— Guy Hedreen, Amos Lawrence Professor of Art, will present “The Origin of Species in Empedocles and the Visual Representation of Monsters: A Tale of Two Theories” as part of the annual Williams College Faculty Lecture Series. The lecture will take place on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 4:15 p.m. in Wege Auditorium, with a reception to follow in the Schow Atrium. This event is free and open to the public.

Hedreen teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes on ancient Greek art. His work focuses on the art, literature, religion, mythology, and society of ancient Greece and Rome. In addition, he instructs courses on the history and methodology of art history, a requirement for art history majors.

The lecture will present one part of a larger research project on the relationship between natural history and art within the materialist thought of the ancient philosophers Empedocles, Demokritos, Epicurus, Lucretius, among others. The project originated as an investigation into late-15th-century pictorial responses to the De rerum natura of Lucretius, an ancient poem from 55 B.C. The early modern artistic responses reveal an awareness of the intertextual relationship between De rerum natura and the 5th B.C. poet-philosopher, Empedocles, in relationship to the question of the origin of animal species. Empedocles’ remarkable theory posits that the limbs and organs of living creatures were created first before coming together, at random, to form complex creatures, some of which survive today due to natural selection. Hedreen will examine the reception of Empedocles’ theory of speciation in ancient literature and thought, showing how ancient readers understood the theory in relation to the ancient visual artistic tradition of depicting monstrous compound creatures like the centaur.  Empedokles’ theory challenged not only the widespread assumption that living creatures were the result of intelligent design, but also ancient aesthetic theory according to which all artistic expression is, or should be, the result of premeditated, rational design.

Hedreen earned his B.A. from Pomona College and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College.

About the Faculty Lecture Series

The Faculty Lecture Series was founded in 1911 by Catherine Mariotti Pratt, the spouse of a faculty member who wanted to “relieve the tedium of long New England winters with an opportunity to hear Williams professors talk about issues that really mattered to them.” From these humble and lighthearted beginnings, the Faculty Lecture Series has grown to become an important forum for tenured professors to share their latest research with the larger intellectual community of the college.

The lecture series will continue on March 7 with Neil Roberts, associate professor of Africana studies, with his talk on “How to Live Free in an Age of Pessimism.”

For building locations on the Williams campus, please consult the map outside the driveway entrance to the Security Office located in Hopkins Hall on Main Street (Rte. 2), next to the Thompson Memorial Chapel, or call the Office of Communications 413-597-4277. The map can also be found on the web at www.williams.edu/map

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