James Clay

James Clay is a first year Classical Studies Ph.D. Student. He is interested in literary and historicised readings of ancient philosophical texts and how philosophy and philosophers propose best engaging with conventional political systems.

James comes to Columbia from Sydney University where he completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons I) in 2019 and a Master of Philosophy in 2022. James’s research to date has explored how the philosophically inclined individual interacts with a tumultuous and violent political context in antiquity. His honours thesis examined Epicurean political philosophy as it appears in Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. He argues that for Lucretius the Epicurean sage should not withdraw entirely from politics as maxims like lathe biōsas might imply, but instead that the decision to engage or not should be circumstantial and based on a shifting hedonic calculus. He wrote his Master’s thesis about Plato’s reformulation of fifth century elite quietist rhetoric. He argues that Plato takes elite praise for the life disengaged from politics and the newly popularised notion of apragmosynē and flips it on its head. Plato instead advocates for its opposite: a new form of politics constituted by philosophically motivated engagement with the citizenry as personified by the Platonic Socrates.

James also served as a sessional academic at Sydney University. Since 2021 he has tutored and lectured for undergraduate courses in the Classics and Ancient History Department on Greek History and Myth. He also co wrote and taught a module on Classical architecture for the University of Technology Sydney. Finally, he has worked at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, which houses the University of Sydney’s antiquities collection, teaching school students of all levels about the ancient world.