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Literature and Political Culture among the Ancients

ENGL 329.401
instructor(s):

Crosslisted--COML 329, CLST 329

This course is the counterpart to “Poetry and Politics in Ancient Greece,” which I have taught at Penn for several semesters.  In this course we will concentrate on “the city” and will discuss works for which there was not time in the other course.   As Plato’s Republic was the heart of the other course, the heart of this one is Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and the Politics, although it is good to remember that the composer Berlioz thought the most important influence on him was Virgil’s Aeneid.
 
            Modern artists hold that literature inhabits a realm unto itself for the sake of imaginative exploration of private visions.  Classical writers held that literature is an imitation of humanity, how humanity is and how humanity might be.  Therefore, classical art is closely connected to political culture.  Literature has a music that shapes the soul, and how souls are shaped is crucial to the goals of the city.
 
            In this course we will read great authors who thought long and deeply about the relationships among arts, politics, and ethics.  In the course of our discussions, we will be touching on questions central to a liberal education:  what is the definition of a human being?  What is his role as a citizen?  Wherein does happiness lie?  What is the connection between individual happiness and the success of a city?
 
            Reading: Gilgamesh, Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone--and also Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy) Herodotus’ History of the Persian Wars, several dialogues of Plato (Euthyphro, Ion, Symposium, Lysis, Laches, Phaedo), Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics,  parts of Livy’s History of the Roman Republic, and Virgil’s Aeneid.