Amit Shilo

Assistant Professor / Faculty Undergraduate Advisor
Office:
HSSB 4051
Email:
amitshilo@ucsb.edu

About:

“How do individuals and societies create and sustain values? Can these values be made more equitable?”

I have been preoccupied with versions of these ethical and political, but also literary questions for decades. They have led me to work on the societally disruptive aspects of Athenian tragedy (especially Aeschylus), Plato, Homer, and Greek political thinkers. Other research topics include Seneca, the Hebrew Bible, and Kafka. In each field I attempt to bring to bear modern perspectives from debates over ethical philosophy in literature, political philosophy (especially in reaction to “political theology”), and a wide range of theorists and critics.

Having traveled, worked, and studied, mostly around NYC and Europe after college (NYU, English Lit./History), I received my Ph.D. in Classics (also from NYU, 2012). There I worked as a Language Lecturer (2012-13) before a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center (2013-14), from which I joined UCSB.

My book, Beyond Death in the Oresteia: Poetics, Ethics, and Politics, is forthcoming at Cambridge University Press (2021). It analyzes the multitude of views on the afterlife in the trilogy, ranging from oblivion to ghostly returns to one of the earliest examples in Western thought of postmortem judgment. Among the book’s central arguments is that specific ideas about the afterlife function as ethical checks for the living against political violence.

An article on the afterlife in Greek tragedy and Plato has appeared in ThéoRèmes (2013). One on the Ghost of Clytemnestra and ethical thought in the American Journal of Philology (2018). In it, I take the Ghost’s claims seriously, as the Erinyes do. I find that crediting this undead, lying, murdering character entails a literary-philosophical provocation past normative ethical assumptions. [links to each article below]

A third article, “The Chained Demons of Creation: Literalism and Unetymology in Genesis 1” (accepted at ThéoRèmes) combines biblical Hebrew philology, literary criticism, and religious studies. It argues that the first creation story structures its own “literal” reception through simultaneously stripping the dangerous names of nature divinities and drawing attention to its technique.

Currently, I am widening my research to engage more directly with modern political-theological theories and political philosophy.

I have been fortunate that my teaching has often furthered my research, including graduate seminars on “Greek Democracy and Its Critics” and “Classical Tyranny,” as well as courses on Greek tragedy, Homer, Plato, Aristotle, the ancient afterlife, Greek intellectual revolutions, and mythology.

In 2016 I co-founded Classics and Social Justice (C-SJ) with Prof. Nancy Rabinowitz (Hamilton College). Its mandate is to connect all aspects of the discipline with self-critical, positive social change. This includes amplifying the remarkable activism of scholars and teachers, as well as helping the profession become more equitable. It has grown into an SCS affiliated group with meetings across the US and in Europe. I have co-organized a number of C-SJ events at SCS/AIA annual meetings, including the three-part workshop “Classics and Civic Activism” in Washington, D.C. (2020).

At UCSB I attempt to connect with a variety of mentoring and social justice projects, such as the Promise Scholars and the Odyssey Project.

A year studying Ancient Greek material culture, art history, and excavation as the Phillip Lockhart Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (2007-08) has greatly benefited my teaching and research.

Due to a strong interest in digital humanities I have participated in Greek and Latin online translation and natural language processing projects.

I am currently the department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies and will gladly answer questions about majoring or minoring in Classics or Classical Archeology.

I warmly welcome inquiries from all students (including prospective ones) concerning the above or related topics.

Publications:

Book

  • Beyond Death in the Oresteia: Poetics, Ethics, and Politics, Cambridge University Press (2021)

Articles, Book Chapters, and Reviews

  • “Ghosts, Demons, and Gods: Supernatural Challenges,” (forthcoming, chapter in A Companion to Aeschylus, Wiley Press)
  • “The Chained Demons of Creation: Literalism and Unetymology in Genesis 1,” (forthcoming, ThéoRèmes)
  • Review: The Mortal Voice in the Tragedies of Aeschylus by Sarah Nooter,” Classical World, Vol. 112, Num. 2, Winter 2019 [link below]
  • “The Ghost of Clytemnestra in the Eumenides: Ethical Claims Beyond Human Limits,” American Journal of Philology, Vol. 139, Num. 4, Winter 2018 [link below]
  • “From Oblivion to Judgment: Afterlives, Ethics, and Unbeliefs in Greek Tragedy and Plato,” ThéoRèmes, Vol. 5, 2013 [link below]

Selected Talks and Panels

  • “Rage for Purity: Democracy Unblooding Tragedy,” Cathartic History Conference, University of West Georgia, 2021 (upcoming)
  • “Demise and the Work of Thought in Seneca’s Natural Questions,” Seneca 2020, Lisbon (delayed)
  • Co-organizer and co-chair, “Classics and Civic Activism” AIA/SCS workshop, 2020
  • Co-organizer and co-chair, “Classics and Social Justice” SCS panel, 2018
  • Co-organizer of a two day conference, Religion and the State in Classical Greece and Rome, at Princeton University, 2017. Talk: “Divine Stasis vs. Democratic Unanimity: Polytheistic Divisions as Political-Theological Checks in the Oresteia and Beyond”
  • Co-organizer and respondent, “Violence and the Political in Greek Epic and Tragedy,” SCS referee-organized panel, 2017
  • Co-chair, “Classics and Social Justice,” SCS round-table, 2017
  • “Competing Divine Justices: Polytheism and Political Violence in Greek Tragedy,” Divine (In)Justice in Antiquity and the Middle Ages Conference, University of Sheffield, UK, 2016
  • “The Laws of Hades Against the Laws of Athena: The Afterlife and Political Dissent in the Oresteia,” Newman University, UK, 2016
  • “Plato and Kafka: The Dialectics of Withdrawn Revelation,” American Comparative Literature Association, 2016
  • “Unanimous Gods, Unanimous Athens? Voting and Divinities in the Oresteia,” Society for Classical Studies, 2016
  • “The Philosopher’s Sting: Thinking Beasts in Plato and Kafka,” UCSB Metamorphosis Conference, 2015
  • “Tricky Spirits: Violence and Deception in Homeric Ghost Stories,” UCSB 2014
  • “Cassandra on the Banks of the Acheron: Visualizing the Afterlife as Resistance in the Oresteia,” Fédération internationale des associations d’études classiques, 2014
  • “Unanimous Gods, Unanimous Athens: Thinking Political Theologies with the Oresteia,” Harvard’s Classical Receptions Seminar, 2014
  • “Clytemnestra’s Ghost: Image and Afterlife in the Oresteia” American Philological Association, 2013
  • “The Tablet-Writing Mind of Hades: A Third Model of Justice in the Eumenides” Classical Association of the Middle West and South Annual Meeting, 2012
  • “The Afterlife and Moral Decisions in the Oresteia,” American Philological Association, 2011

Shilo 2013 ThéoRèmes From Oblivion to Judgment: Afterlives, Ethics, and Unbeliefs in Greek Tragedy and Plato”

Shilo 2018 AJP “The Ghost of Clytemnestra in the Eumenides: Ethical Claims Beyond Human Limits”

Shilo 2019 CW Review of Nooter Mortal Voice