Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

The Task of Teaching “Animal Awareness” in a World of Sympathy and Antipathy

Brooke Holmes (Princeton University)

From the early Hellenistic period, writers in a number of areas of knowledge, including natural history, pharmacology, philosophy, and learned magic, are beginning to think of the world as webbed by various bonds of sympathy (sympatheia) and antipathy (antipatheia) between individual natures. The concepts of sympathy they develop will shape the way people think about the natural world for centuries, up to—and beyond—the so-called “scientific revolution” at the threshold of modernity.

In this paper, I examine one particular concept that recurs in the literature of sympathy—namely, that animals are moved intuitively by sympathetic bonds. We can contrast this idea with another: humans must be taught to see the sympathies and antipathies that organize the physical world around them. I analyze how the task of bringing the reader to what we might call a kind of “animal” level of awareness is taken up by (mostly technical) writers on sympathy (e.g., Pliny, Plutarch) and consider more broadly how the need to learn to see the organization of the world distinguishes humans from animals.