Episode 540 – Scott Samuelson

Virtual Memories Show 540:
Scott Samuelson

“Rome itself can totally scramble one’s sense of what is transcendent and religious and what is earthly and political.”

Let’s visit the Eternal City! Philosophy professor Scott Samuelson joins the show to discuss his wondrous new book, ROME AS A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE: A Philosophical Grand Tour (University of Chicago Press), and we get right into how he fell in love with Rome, what it means to engage with the city philosophically, and how he blended place, history, philosophy, art, poetry, religion and more in his exploration of Rome and the vita beata. We talk about mortality and mercy, the way Roman philosophers remind him of jazz musicians, critiques of Roman imperialism and why the city of Rome itself is its best defense against its colonial-critics, and what he’s looking forward to when he returns to Rome after a 3-year hiatus. We also discuss his experience teaching philosophy to non-traditional students, why he resisted specialization in his field, his love of cooking and the last meal he made for a dying friend, the importance of forgetting and/or externalizing memory, whether my “Virgil is to Homer as Kobe is to MJ” comp holds up, and more! Give it a listen! And go read ROME AS A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE!

“Roman philosophy felt like it spoke to life and death questions without feeling abstract. Also, the philosophers often blended literature and philosophy in a similar way to the Existentialists.”

“I think of Roman philosophy a bit like jazz. Jazz musicians are all going to play Body & Soul, and in that sense they’re not creative, but what they do with Body & Soul is incredibly creative. That’s where the Romans have something unique: taking these powerful ideas from Ancient Greece and really trying to put them into play with politics and human life.”

“The Aeneid can be read in one sense as a celebration of Imperial Rome; in another sense it can be read as a complete criticism of Imperial Rome. Those things are deeply undecidable throughout the text.”

“I’d been mentally traveling to Rome for a long time before I ever actually showed up there.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Scott Samuelson lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where he is professor of philosophy at Kirkwood Community College. He has taught the humanities in universities, colleges, prisons, houses of worship, and bars. He has also worked as a movie reviewer, television host, and sous chef at a French restaurant on a gravel road. He is the author of The Deepest Human Life and Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering, both published by the University of Chicago Press. His new book is Rome As A Guide To The Good Life: A Philosophical Grand Tour.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Scott by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

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