Feeling Nature: Sympathy in Hellenistic Science, Philosophy, and Poetry


ACLS Fellowship Program




The concept of sympathy was long common in pre-modern natural philosophy as a way of explaining relations between, for example, different plants or minerals, or between stars and terrestrial objects. This project offers a comprehensive study of the emergence of the concept of sympatheia in the Hellenistic period and relates its appearance to representations of the natural world in contemporary poetry. It argues that sympathy sheds light on how models of nature and the cosmos as interconnected wholes take shape in the years after the “inquiry into nature” is established in Greece. Through studies of natural history, philosophical cosmology, learned magic, and Alexandrian poetry, it explores the different communities created by sympathy and the ambiguous place of human beings within them.