Classics Emotions
Pia Campeggiani, David Konstan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0239


Only recently has the history of emotions emerged as a field of investigation, and within that field the study of emotions in classical Antiquity now plays a leading role. The belatedness of the field is due, in part, to the widespread assumption that emotions are universal and innate; hence, they have no history. They were the same for the ancient Greeks and Romans as they are today. Recent analyses of the emotions as socially constructed, at least in some degree, have encouraged comparative and historical approaches. Classicists, in turn, are privileged in having access to detailed and astute accounts of the emotions by native speakers of Greek and Latin, in addition to a wealth of literature, such as tragedy and the novel, that exhibits the emotions in action. This has prompted the rapid development of the field. This article begins, accordingly, with a brief overview of modern theories of emotions and then proceeds to overviews and more detailed studies of emotions in classical Antiquity.

Modern Theories

Research on emotions has proceeded apace in a variety of disciplines, and a knowledge of these developments is crucial for understanding emotions in classical Antiquity. Below, we list some recent overviews that take account of the various trends and approaches, along with two bibliographical surveys. For overviews, see Ben Ze’ev 2000, Oatley 2004, Deonna and Teroni 2012, Panksepp and Biven 2012, and Plamper 2015. Davidson, et al. 2009 is an up-to-date manual of the affective sciences, including an entry on history of emotion; for bibliographical surveys, see Brady 2010 and Oatley 2013.

  • Ben Ze’ev, Aaron. 2000. The subtlety of emotions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    In the first part of the book, the author discusses the nature of emotions and their complexity, focusing on their typical characteristics and components, distinguishing emotions from other affective phenomena, and examining emotional regulation and the role of emotions in the moral domain. The second part of the book offers a discussion of individual emotions, often accompanied by amusing anecdotal accounts.

  • Brady, Michael. 2010. “Emotion.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Annotated bibliography, providing a guide to the main philosophical debates on emotion.

  • Davidson, Richard J., Klaus Scherer, and Harold Hill Goldsmith, eds. 2009. Handbook of affective sciences. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Comprehensive coverage of the different approaches to emotion in the affective sciences. The manual is divided into ten sections: Neuroscience, Autonomic Psychophysiology, Genetics and Development, Expression of Emotion, Cognitive Components of Emotion, Personality, Emotion and Social Processes, Evolutionary and Cultural Perspectives on Affect, Emotion and Psychopathology, and Emotion and Health.

  • Deonna, Julien A., and Fabrice Teroni. 2012. The emotions: A philosophical introduction. New York: Routledge.

    In this introduction to the philosophy of emotions, the authors present and assess the major theories about what emotions are, providing an overview of the main issues in current debates for both general readers and specialists. In the final chapters, they lay out their own original theory of emotions—the Attitudinal Theory. Each of the ten chapters is followed by a list of references for further reading.

  • Oatley, Keith. 2004. Emotions: A brief history. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470776322

    Oatley approaches the vast territory of emotions spanning a broad spectrum of approaches, from history of philosophy to psychology, from psychiatry to literary evidence. The book is organized thematically and focuses on emotions as neurobiological, cultural, social, and subjective phenomena.

  • Oatley, Keith. 2013. “Emotion.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Psychology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Annotated bibliography, providing a guide to the best available scholarship on emotion in the field of psychology.

  • Panksepp, Jaak, and Lucy Biven. 2012. The archaeology of mind: Neuroevolutionary origins of human emotions. New York: Norton.

    This book updates Panksepp’s earlier textbook Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) and argues that the new scientific discipline of affective neuroscience is capable of shedding light on how primary affective systems, anchored in subcortical brain circuits, work in the mammalian brain. The book provides an evolutionary taxonomy of emotional feelings, arising from the “ancestral mind” (or the “affective mind”), evolutionarily specialized and common to humans and many other animals.

  • Plamper, Jan. 2015. The history of emotions: An introduction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An excellent survey of research on emotion in disciplines such as history, anthropology, physiology, psychology, psychoanalysis, and the neurosciences, along with original views of the author.

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