Bard Professor James Romm Receives $50,000 NEH Public Scholar Grant in Support of His Project Plato and the Tyrant
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— James Romm, James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College, has been awarded $50,000 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund his project Plato and the Tyrant: The Experiment that Wrecked a City and Shaped a Philosophic Masterpiece. The book will use Plato’s little-known letters to illuminate his interventions in the politics of the Greek city of Syracuse and his relationship to the ruler Dionysius the Younger. The grant will support his work over a 10-month term beginning in September. Romm was previously a recipient for the NEH Public Scholar grant in 2018 for work on The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers in the Last Days of Greek Freedom, a book about the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes.
“The Public Scholar program helps situate the humanities just where they ought to be—in the large world of public discourse, rather than behind university walls,” Prof. Romm said. “I’m honored to be recognized for making the ancient Greeks a part of that discourse. Never have the lessons they taught about tyranny, rule of law, and the meaning of citizenship been more relevant to our lives than they are at this moment.”
Plato is regarded as one of the world’s most influential thinkers, yet his life and personality remain opaque, partially because he did not include himself in his dialogues but used the mask of Socrates to develop his ideas. Plato and the Tyrant will bring his first-person voice to the forefront through quotes from the Platonic letters, documents sometimes regarded as forgeries but, as the book will argue, almost certainly genuine writings of Plato. The five Syracusan letters, addressed by Plato to Dionysius or to other political leaders of Syacuse, help tell the story of Plato’s interventions in that city. In addition, large segments of the Republic, especially the doctrine of the philosopher-king, can best be understood as reflections of Plato’s encounters with Dionysius, the foremost autocrat in the Greek world of his day.
Plato and the Tyrant follows not only the final two decades of Plato's life (367-347 BC) but the rise and fall, during that period, of a ruler who was at times Plato's student and at other times his nemesis, Dionysius the Younger, who at age 30 came to power in Syracuse in 367 as the sheltered heir of his father, also named Dionysius. The uncle of the younger Dionysius, Dion—a zealous adherent, and possibly lover, of Plato— wished to reshape his nephew’s character through philosophic instruction in the hope of setting Syracuse's regime on a healthier path. At Dion's urging, Plato journeyed to Syracuse just after the Younger's accession, a visit that set in motion a series of disasters for Dion, Dionysius, Plato, and the entire city. Plato and the Tyrant will ultimately examine the question of Plato's relationship to autocracy, a question that resonates strongly with current concerns in global and domestic politics.
About the National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at neh.gov.
#About Bard College
Founded in 1860, Bard College is a four-year, residential college of the liberal arts and sciences located 90 miles north of New York City. With the addition of the Montgomery Place estate, Bard’s campus consists of nearly 1,000 parklike acres in the Hudson River Valley. It offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of music degrees, with majors in more than 40 academic programs; graduate degrees in 13 programs; eight early colleges; and numerous dual-degree programs nationally and internationally. Building on its 163-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard College has expanded its mission as a private institution acting in the public interest across the country and around the world to meet broader student needs and increase access to liberal arts education. The undergraduate program at our main campus in upstate New York has a reputation for scholarly excellence, a focus on the arts, and civic engagement. Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders. For more information about Bard College, visit bard.edu.
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