Stoicism in literature: the power of inner transformation

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

Stoicism is an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of life based on the notion that "happiness," or eudaemonia, is internally generated, and consists in improving one's own character in the service of humanity at large. One of its major exponents was the first century Roman philosopher Epictetus, who has had a consistent influence on western philosophy, religion, and literature, though the theme of Epictetus and literature has been comparatively little explored. Relevant works mentioning Epictetus and making use of his philosophy in a literary context include, but are not limited to: Shakespeare's Hamlet; François Rabelais' Pantagruel; Jon Milton's Paradise Lost; Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; Matthew Arnold's sonnet To a Friend; James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie; John Berryman's poem Of Suicide; J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey; V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas; Lynne Sharon Schwartz's Disturbances in the Field; and Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. The panel will bring together an intersection of the humanities, represented by philosophers and literary scholars, to discuss the reasons and meaning of Epictetus' persistence in literature over the span of almost two millennia, but particularly in the last five centuries or so. We will explore the roots of Epictetus' influence on literature, including his philosophy of resilience and the inspiration provided by his astounding personal life -- from slave to freedman, from exile to friend of emperors.