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Ancient Greeks: Poetry & Political Wisdom

ENGL 296.401
instructor(s):
MWF 12

In this course, we will take up questions central to a liberal education, that is, the education worthy of a free person. Those questions are the makeup of the human soul, the nature of happiness, the connection between virtue and political action, the role of poetry in teaching virtue and the connection between personal happiness and the polity to which the individual belongs. Addressing such questions will establish a foundation from which to consider these questions as they are taken up by other great writers of later periods. Indeed, at the end of the course, we will take up Shakespeare's Tempest in order to reflect on the difference between the way the ancients sifted these questions and the way Shakespeare does.

Along the way, we will hit some of the great moments in Greek literature-the meeting between Priam and Achilles in the midst of the Trojan War, the victory of the Greeks over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, the Funeral Oration of Pericles and the destruction of the Athenian army in Sicily, Socrates being lowered to earth in a basket, the story of Theuth, and the rich tentativeness of Socrates' remark, as he decides to leave behind a simple city in favor of a city with philosophical leisure afforded to some, "Perhaps it is for the best."

We will read the following works in whole or in part: Homer's Iliad, Herodotus' Persian Wars, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes The Clouds, several dialogues of Plato (Apology, Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Phaedrus), and Shakespeare's The Tempest.