May 8, 2013, by Alan Sommerstein

The appliance of cognitive science

On Thursday 9 May, at 5 pm in A2 Humanities Building, Dr Peter Meineck of New York University, who is a Special Professor in the Department of Classics, will give a lecture on an exciting new interdisciplinary development in the study of ancient drama.

The Theatre that Moved the Soul: Understanding the Power of Ancient Greek Drama through Modern Cognitive Science

What was it about the ancient Athenian theatre that led Plato, Aristotle and Isocrates to all say that it had the power to ‘move the soul’? In this illustrated talk incorporating live demonstrations, Peter Meineck will suggest a new method for approaching ancient drama using research drawn from the cognitive sciences. Can neuroscientific studies and modern cognitive theories be applied to the ancient Athenian brain? Can recent advances from the affective sciences offer us an array of new tools for better understanding the experience of ancient performance? This talk will suggest that the dramatic mask operating in a multisensory dynamic environment provided a deeply personal emotional anchor to music, narrative and movement of ancient drama and that new research in face recognition, neuroaesthetics, eye-tracking, human proprioception and sensory processing can indeed illuminate important aspects of the ancient world.

Dr Peter Meineck is Clinical Associate Professor of Classics at New York University, Special Professor in Classics at the University of Nottingham and Founder of Aquila Theatre. He has published several translations of ancient plays with Hackett (including one of Aristophanes’ Clouds, Wasps and Birds) and is currently completing a new book on cognitive science and Greek drama. He has directed and produced over 60 professional theatre productions at venues as diverse as Lincoln Center, the White House, the ancient stadium at Delphi, Carnegie Hall, Off Broadway and theatres throughout the USA. Canada and Europe. He has written several stage adaptations of classical works from Homer to Rostand. He is also director of the National Endowment for the Humanities Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives program that has brought performances of ancient drama to 100 US communities, bringing combat veterans and the public together in discussion about the effects of war.

Peter Meineck took his first degree at University College London and received a PhD in Classics from the University of Nottingham in 2011. He has taught at Princeton and the University of Southern California as well as at NYU. He is also currently a fellow of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies.

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