Virtual Seminar: Orientation/Disorientation in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Literature

Organized by Dr. Olga Faccani and Dr. Enrico Müller

This seminar took place in February – March 2023.

Announcement Text

Many of the basic concepts of our present political, scientific and aesthetic world orientation have their origins in ancient Greek thought. While the ancient Greeks never acted as a longstanding political superpower, as the Romans did through their Empire, they are still influential and skillful masters of orientation: through their myths, literature, and philosophy, they continue to resonate in our contemporary lives as we navigate questions of how we understand our world, ourselves, and others. Ancient texts often portray ethically relevant situations, in which human beings lack control, and in doing so they expose readers to irritations and disorientations concerning “a lack of footholds, misleading clues, disrupted or failing routines, untenable plausibilities, fragmentary memories, or infelicitous orientation decisions” (Werner Stegmaier, What is Orientation? A Philosophical Investigation, p. 90). In this seminar, we will engage in close readings with different genres of text – such as aphorism, epic, dialogue, drama, treatise – to examine characteristic forms and worlds of orientation in ancient Greek writers like Homer, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle, and thereby use the framework of Werner Stegmaier’s philosophy of orientation.



  • Wolly Wolcott, personal trainer in Nashville
  • George Ogata, Senior Agile Engagement Manager at Takeda Pharmaceuticals; Symphony Conductor (MA, USA)
  • Maria Tinajero, PhD candidate in Philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (BRA)
  • John Thedford, CEO and Chairman; Entrepreneur and Author of Smart Moves Management
  • Miti Zhou, 11th grade high school student from Shanghai (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program)
  • Gayane Baghramya, undergraduate in economics at UC Santa Barbara
  • Angelo Tonalli, Italian classicist, translator, theater director, actor
  • Alyssa Truman, PhD student at the Cognitive Studies department at UC San Diego
  • Massima Maggiari, Professor of Italian at the College of Charleston
  • Elia De Carlo, student of communication in Italy
  • Alessandra Filannino Indelicato, researcher of humanities; worked at the U of Milano-Bicocca, Italy)
  • Paola Polito, performer and singer (sang the part of Medea during MythosLogos performance)
  • Ela Es, performer and mask-maker (created masks of Dionysus during MythosLogos performance, organized by Angelo Tonelli)

Texts Discussed: Homer’s Iliad (passages); the 7 sages of ancient Greece; Anaximander; Parmenides; Heraclitus; Sophocles; Plato’s Republic (passages); Euripides’ Medea

The Sequence of Sessions

1.) Beginnings of orientation in ancient Greece: between sophia (wisdom) and philosophia; texts of the 7 ancient sages; the ‘sentence of Anaximander’

2.) Parmenides and the Greeks (first philosophical questions: concerning being and time)

3.) Values of orientation in Homer: The Iliad and Odyssey

4.) Heraclitus and Change

5.) Disorientation and Reorientation in ancient Greek drama: Sophocles

6.) Plato’s allegory of the cave (The Republic: 514a-520a)

7.) Tragedy in ancient Greek thought: Euripides’ Medea

8.) Final Discussion

Report: Insights Concerning Philosophical Orientation

by Dr. Enrico Mueller and Dr. Olga Faccani

Our seminar on “Orientation/Disorientation in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Literature” delved into the profound connection between ancient Greek thought and the philosophy of orientation. A primary question explored was: why do we associate the Greeks, particularly from the archaic era—an age rich in experimentation—with our contemporary questions of orientation? Such historical investigations illuminated the Greeks’ lasting legacy in shaping our worldviews.

The selected texts from ancient literature we explored as part of the seminar, spanning from the Homeric epics, Parmenides, ancient Greek tragedy, and Plato, vividly depict the process of losing one’s orientation. Texts such as Sophocles’ Antigone showcase characters in the process of re-orienting themselves in the aftermath of change and trauma, depicted through the medium of theater, rather than the philosophical medium. As part of the seminar, we touched on questions of how the theater art form enacts the process of disorientation and uniquely exposes its spectators to change. Plato’s “Myth of the Cave,” on the other hand, another text explored during our seminar, offered, with the allegory of the cave, a metaphorical bridge to discuss the question of the soul as a cybernetic problem of orientation.