Dr Simon Trépanier (PhD)
Senior Lecturer; Classics
I grew up in Québec, just on the French side of the border between French and English Canada. Up to and including my undergraduate years, all my studies were in French. My high school did not offer any classics courses, but I enrolled to study Classical archaeology at the University of Ottawa, where I soon switched to Greek and Latin. During graduate studies in Classics at the University of Toronto, I chose to specialise in ancient philosophy. After a one-year replacement post at UMass Boston in 2001/02, in 2003 I moved to the UK to do post-doctoral research at the University of Oxford. This in turn led to a post at the University of Edinburgh in 2005.
Responsibilities & affiliations
- Co-Organizer, with M.M. McCabe, of the A. G. Leventis Conference: Re‐Reading Plato’s Republic, 21‐24 Nov. 2019
- Member of The International Association of Presocratic Studies, (IAPS) since 2008; Host and organizer of 2nd meeting held in Edinburgh July 28th-31st 2010.
- Member of the Board of IAPS at 3rd Meeting in Merida, Mexico, Jan. 2012; on the organizing committee for 4th meeting (2014), 5th meeting (2016), 6th meeting (2018), 7th Meeting (2020).
- Greek 1C/2A/1D/2B (intermediate level, incl. Euripides, Menander, Xenophon, Thucydides)
- Early Greek Philosophy (Greek GREE10014; in Translation CLTR10015)
- Socrates and Plato: (Greek U03602; in Translation U03603)
- Greek Comedy (GREE10011)
- Classical Literature 2A: Ancient Epic (CLTR08008)
- Homer, Iliad (GREE10002)
- Lucretius De Rerum Natura (LATI10022)
- Tragedy in Translation (CLTR10003)
- Greek Language A and B (advanced language instruction, incl. unseens)
- Epicurus and Epicureanism (P01651)
- Greek Philosophy (Plato's Republic) (PGHC11022)
Current PhD students supervised
Name - Degree - Thesis topic - Supervision type - Link
- Graham Blackbourne - PhD - Self, Witness and Perception in Archaic Greece - Primary
Past PhD students supervised
Name - Degree - Thesis topic - Supervision type - Completion year - Link
- Language & Literature
- Medicine, Science & Technology
My main research interest is ancient philosophy. My specialties include early Greek philosophy, also known as the Presocratics, Plato, literary papyrology and, more recently, Epicureanism and Lucretius. I am especially interested in the emergence of philosophy and its relation to literature and wider society, and in ancient philosophical religion.
So far my main efforts have been devoted to the philosopher-poet Empedocles. Thanks to a major papyrus find, which appeared in 1999, at the time described as the ‘the find of the century’ for ancient philosophy, we not only have more text to work with, but much of what we thought we knew about him needs to be rethought. My first book (2004) argued that the new evidence reinforces the case for there being only one poem, against the dominant modern editorial division of his poetic output between two poems. More recent articles are either contributions to the papyrus text or try to show how the Pythagorean side of his thought, reincarnation and the nature of the gods, can be squared with his materialist physics.
Current research activities
My current project, ‘The New Empedocles’, attempts to pull these different strands together. It is planned as a major study in four large parts.
Its first part is an edition and commentary of Book 1 of the On Nature, integrating the papyrus and a number of other fragments known to us from the Aristotelian commentator Simplicius. Beyond several new suggestions for restoring the text, I try to show how close study of Empedocles’ poetic exposition can help us understand the larger structure and organization of Book 1.
The second part is a series of essays on his philosophy, with emphasis on the unity of his thought. The essays will cover broader topics such as his reply to Parmenides and the nature of his cosmic cycle, down to more detailed study of Empedocles’ biology, based on the counterintuitive (to us) primacy of body-parts over whole bodies. My central contention will be that we moderns have been misled by the appropriation of Empedocles by ancient Platonist sources (Plutarch, Hippolytus of Rome, Plotinus). Close study of Empedoclean terminology and the doxography, which defines the reincarnated Empedoclean soul as a material compound, shows that Empedocles is innocent of later Platonic metaphysics and the conception of souls (and probably gods) as incorporeal and essentially immortal. While he stresses their great longevity, he also concedes their ultimate mortality. From there I will explore other features of his thought, such as his us technological similes as a figure of persuasion and also why Aristotle in the Physics makes Empedocles the defender of cosmic chance, rather than the early atomists.
The third part renews the case for the single work, which was the focus of my 2004 book. The most important departure from that work is that in 2004 I had not yet worked out the philosophy (see above) which is now crucial to my argument. My main thesis will be that we should recognise that the fragments attributed to the opening of the Purifications (B 112 and B 115) belong to the 232 lines left open before the doctrinal exposition On Nature I. This is not a new thesis, but the originality of my treatment will consist in providing a convincing literary strategy for the relation of these passages to the later material. It is this: the internal literary unity of Empedocles’ message cannot be grasped on a first reading, but only in hindsight.
The last part will be on the ancient reception, with special emphasis on Lucretius. Topics to be explored include 1) Plato’s afterlife myths, 2) Empedocles as ‘mad philosopher’ in the earliest sources 3) the Hellenistic reception, where both main dogmatic Hellenistic schools found in Empedocles much to like (materialism, empiricism, system-building), but also much to disagree over (the afterlife, closed world, cosmic cycles, poetry as a proper vehicle for philosophy). The last three studies move to Rome in the 1st century BCE. Recent work has shown the influence of Empedocles on Lucretius’ six-book didactic epic The Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura or DRN). Although the Latin poet’s aim is to teach Epicurean, not Empedoclean physics, Empedocles was his literary model: Lucretius wanted to be the Roman Empedocles. In draft are chapters on the Empedoclean opening, the proems of DRN 1 to 3 as stages in a conversion narrative, and finally, Lucretius’ deliberate poetic conflation of his two god-like masters.
Greek philosophy and ancient theology
I have longer-term plans for a wider treatment of the gods in Greek philosophy. For a first survey of the issues, see my 2010 article in the list of publications.
Co-Organizer, with M.M. McCabe, of the A. G. Leventis Conference: Re‐Reading Plato’s Republic, 21‐24 Nov. 2019
The list below is a subset of the information held on the University of Edinburgh PURE system, and includes Books, Chapters, Articles and Conference contributions. For a full list, including details of other publication types (e.g. reviews), please see the Edinburgh Research Explorer page for Dr Simon Trépanier.
Trepanier, S. (2004) Empedocle: Les Pommes de la discorde. Phoenix - The Journal of the Classical Association of Canada, 58, pp. 130-142
Trepanier, S. (2003) 'We and Empedocles' Cosmic Lottery: P. Strasb. Gr. INV.1665-1666 ensemble a. Mnemosyne: A Journal of Classical Studies, 56, pp. 385-419DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/156852503769173039
Trepanier, S. (2020) The spirit in the flesh: Empedocles on embodied soul. In: Bartoš , H. and Guthrie King, C. (eds.) Heat, Pneuma, and Soul in Ancient Philosophy and Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 80-105DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108651714
Trepanier, S. (2019) Empedocles on the Origin of Plants: P. Strasb. gr. Inv. 1665-1666, sections d, b and f. In: Vassallo, C. (ed.) Presocratics and Papyrological Tradition: A Philosophical Reappraisal of the Sources. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 271-297DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110666106-012
Trepanier, S. (2010) Early Greek theology: God as Nature and Natural Gods. In: Erskine, A. and Bremner, J. (eds.) The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 273-317
Trepanier, S. (2007) 'The Didactic Plot of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura and its Empedoclean Model' in R. Sorabji, R.W. Sharples, eds Greek and Roman Philosophy 100 BC to 200 AD, (Institute of Classical Studies London). In: Greek and Roman Philosophy 100 BC to 200 AD, vol. 1. London: Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, pp. 243
Trepanier, S. (2003) Empedocles on the Ultimate Symmetry of the World. In: Sedley, D. (ed.) Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy Volume XXIV. Oxford University Press, pp. 01-58