Monday, September 2, 2013

Laurel Fulkerson's "No Regrets"

Laurel Fulkerson is an Associate Professor at Florida State University. In addition to work on the emotions, she has published articles on gender, Latin, and Greek poetry. She has held visiting fellowships at the University of Cincinnati, Exeter College, and St. Anne's College, Oxford.

Fulkerson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, No Regrets: Remorse in Classical Antiquity, and reported the following:
No Regrets begins from the question that has always fascinated me about the ancient world: how like us, really, were those people who lived thousands of years ago? We feel like we can relate to the classical past – literature, art, and history – but the worry arises, at least for me, whether we are simply transferring modern assumptions back in time. I have found the cross-cultural study of the emotions to be a useful tool for becoming more precise about details of both similarity and difference.

No Regrets focuses on the moral emotion of remorse, tracing its occurrences through a variety of Classical literature to work out who expresses it to whom, when and why (internal feelings are another matter entirely, and remain inaccessible). The main similarities between “them” and “us” lie in the complexity of the emotion, its usefulness in redressing wrongs to the community, and its ability to help create a better self (though in ancient texts this is left implicit). The differences, however, are great: remorse and apology play a minimal role in ancient texts, because they focused more on being the “kind of person” who would make a mistake than on the redemption it might bring (this latter being a Judaeo-Christian import). So most of the expressions of remorse we have are from lower-status individuals, rather than kings or politicians.

Page 99 is from the chapter on Alexander the Great (a high-status individual if ever there was one), discussing how a variety of ancient historians mitigate his expression of remorse after he murders one of his courtiers (Cleitus “the Black”). None of them expect his remorse, whether real or feigned – and the sources are not unanimous about this – to have any effect on his behavior; in that way, it is representative of my approach as a whole (as is the worrying fact that remorse can be faked). And nearly half of the book treats historical examples (the rest is narrative poetry), so it’s characteristic in that way too.
Learn more about No Regrets at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue