Page-Barbour Lectures

Samuel Moyn

Yale University

February 11-13, 2020  |  4:00 - 5:30 PM    

Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections Library Auditorium*


“A History of Duties for an Age of Rights”

Tuesday, February 11th: “The Modernization of Duties”

Wednesday, February 12th: “The Apex and Decline of an Idiom”

Thursday, February 13th: “Prospects for Revival”

In spite of the profusion of histories of rights, not a single history of the concept of duties has ever been written — even though it is much more prevalent across the annals of moral and political life in all traditions. Such a history, moreover, seems more necessary than ever, in a libertarian age. To help situate ourselves in relation to that present, these lectures will offer a history of the language of duties in Western and global thought and politics. The first lecture traces the prehistory, before turning to the attempted modernization of duties after the French Revolution, both in national politics and as a cosmopolitan idiom of potentially worldwide reform. The second lecture will grapple with the problem of when and why duties lost their centrality in the twentieth century. The final lecture will assess what plausible uses a revival of languages and practices oriented towards obligation could serve, as well as confront objections to the enterprise of their recovery.

All lectures are free and open to the public and will be followed immediately by a catered reception. No registration required.

*Location subject to change. 



The Page-Barbour Lecture Committee was delighted to present Daniel Mendelsohn for our 2019 Page-Barbour Lecture series entitled "A Digression: Narrative Afterlives of The Odyssey." 

Tuesday, March 26th: “Auerbach's Two Ways: Homer vs. The Hebrews”

Wednesday, March 27th: “Circling Inside and Out: Herodotus, Fénelon, Proust”

Thursday, March 28th: “The Broken Road: Sebald, Kamil Pasha, Auerbach”

In any artful narrative, digression—from the Latin “to deviate, to stray"— is of course never really a deviation: what appears to be a straying off topic is in fact a sophisticated means of embracing material of crucial importance to the tale—importance that, however, must be signaled obliquely. These lectures will range across the history of digression as a literary tool, from the ring composition of Homer and some of his stylistic epigones (Herodotus, Fénelon) to the literal and figurative wanderings of Joyce, Proust, and W.G. Sebald in the 20th century. Moreover, the literary analysis will unfold against a story—about Auerbach writing “Mimesis” in his Turkish exile, about the history of Fénelon’s bestselling adaptation of the “Odyssey,” “Les adventures de Télémaque, and of a Turkish Grand Vizier’s long struggle to translate “Télémaque”—that itself becomes a giant circle connecting the literary past to the present. 

Professor Mendelsohn is the Charles Ranlett Flint Professor of Humanities at Bard College, and an award-winning memoirist, critic, and translator. He is a frequent contributor The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books, and the author of the international bestseller The Lost: A Search of Six for Six Million, among a number of other works. His research interests include Classical Greek drama; Homeric Epic; gender and sexuality in the ancient world; history of criticism; and the Classical tradition and its reception.