Pia Campeggiani

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline Philosophy
Research Fellow, University of Bologna

Research project

The Passionate Insight: Moral Emotions in Ancient Greece


The proposed research deals with the emotions of pity and sympathy in ancient Greece and is chronologically and geographically centred on classical Athens, using documents and sources from earlier periods to better situate the subject matter in its historical development. The project aims to shed light on the emotional realms of pity and sympathy in terms of their own conceptual specificities and phenomenological features and to illuminate the connection which is likely to exist between pity and our ability to sympathize with other individuals. To this end attention will be paid to the way phantasia and imaginative processes prompted by narrative and art were understood and explained from the viewpoint of ancient Greek ethics and poetics. From this vantage point, I shall explore the moral potential of pity and mimetic sympathy and their relationship with the feeling of commonality between human beings, as it is theoretically discussed in ancient philosophical sources and narratively deployed in poetry and tragic drama.


The main purpose of this project is to gain further understanding than currently achieved in the capacity of emotions to stimulate ethical responses both in the experience of art and in real-life situations. The project focuses on three main issues: (i) those aspects of ancient aesthetics which deal with the emotional and imaginative engagement prompted by works of art in their audiences; (ii) the linguistic and semantic formation of emotion concepts in ancient Greek art and narrative and the information this process provides us with as regards the phenomenology of emotions, their embodied nature and the role played by them as cultural categories; and (iii) the affective discourse originating from events and relations where the feeling of commonality, together with the fundamental principles of justice, is at play.


Since the emotion of pity (for which eleos is one of the most frequent terms) plays a crucial role in ancient aesthetics as far as the relation between the work of art and its audience is concerned and it also seems to be a central feature of many emotional exchanges, as they are depicted in ancient Greek poetry, when justice and equality are at stake, it will be appropriate to pick it out as a specific and revealing illustration of the way moral emotions were felt, understood and represented in ancient Greek culture. My assumption is that aesthetic categories such as that of mimēsis and of emotions inspired by art can open new thought-provoking perspectives on the moral subject of pity and its relation with the principles of justice and equality, especially when it comes to the ancient Greek world, where aesthetics and ethics would not be thought of separately.


The project features the following elements of scientific interest: 1) it provides a rigorous investigation of ancient philosophical and literary accounts of aesthetic emotions, esp. pity and sympathy; 2) it explores the conceptual and emotional connections between sympathy, pity and fellow-feeling in ancient Greek culture by means of a comparative and interdisciplinary approach, combining a historical and philosophical approach with cognitive science research methods, and 3) it provides contemporary discussions on the relations between aesthetics and ethics with a fresh perspective derived from the revitalization of the relevant ancient views.




Pia Campeggiani is Research Fellow in Moral Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies, University of Bologna. She also worked at Edinburgh University, first as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, then as visiting scholar at the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology. She holds a Ph.D in Constitutional Justice and Fundamental Rights (curriculum: Philosophy of Law) from the University of Pisa.


Selected publications


'Other Selves in Fiction: Philia, Eleos and the Ethics of Narrative', Maia, vol. 69, no. 1, 2017, pp. 23-46. 


'Emotions', with D. Konstan, Oxford Bibliographies in Classics [online],  2017, doi: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0239. 


'Le parole sono importanti: elocuzione tra diritto e morale nell’Atene classica', Paradigmi, vol. 33, 2016, pp. 39-50.


'Landscapes of meaning: the significance of myth in ancient Greece', in O.M. Donato (ed.), En torno a Platón, Universidad Libre, Bogota, 2015, pp. 107-122.


'Iguales en las necesidades: intuiciones aristotélicas sobre el sentimiento de indignación', ÁGORA- Papeles de filosofía, vol. 33, no. 2, 2014, pp. 185-197.


Le ragioni dell’ira. Potere e riconoscimento nell’antica Grecia, Carocci, Roma, 2013.


'Prepotencia y abuso en el derecho atico: a proposito del concepto de hybris', HABIS, vol. 43, 2012, pp. 27-46.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Literature
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Linguistics