RCHUMS 309 - Classical Sources of Modern Culture
Section: 001
Term: FA 2008
Subject: RC Humanities (RCHUMS)
Department: LSA Residential College
Credits:
4
Requirements & Distribution:
HU
Other:
WorldLit
Repeatability:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This course will examine the confrontation between myth and philosophy that from the 6th century BC on structured the intellectual heritage of Greece. By myth is meant the fables of the poets, primarily Homer. One should not assume that these stories provide a clear window onto ancient religion; instead the relation between mythology and religion was problematic and unstable. Philosophers, beginning with the presocratics, intervened disruptively in this problematic relation either to magnify the difficulty or to resolve it on their own terms. Philosophical speculation concerning the nature of space and the role of the gods in shaping or controlling space challenged mythology. This speculation had implications, sometimes troubling, for ancient religion – especially for the rituals of prophecy and sacrifice. To contest these rituals was to challenge the site and expression not only of religious, but also (because of the relation between ancient cult and the state) of political power.

Power in the ancient world was concentrated and disseminated by means of images. Visual objects occupied a cultural category quite different from modern conceptions of “art.” To what extent were ancient painting, sculpture or architecture invested in religious, philosophical, or political models? Did they merely reflect or did they actively participate in the debate?

The “Greek tradition” in art, literature, and philosophy is conventionally understood as limited to its pagan expression. This course will take a somewhat wider view. The terms of that tradition — the literary forms, the philosophical preoccupations, and the difficult status of the image — were in fact taken up first by learned Jewish commentators and subsequently by Christian intellectuals of the Byzantine period who viewed this tradition as their own. Their participation in and contribution to the heritage of Greece deserves recognition.

I. Space and design

  • Homer: The Odyssey
  • Geometric pottery
  • The Presocratic philosophers: selections
  • Plato: selections from the Republic

II. Sacrifice and prophecy: the construction of sacred space

  • Aeschylus: The Oresteia
  • Archaic sculpture: The Temple of Zeus at Olympia
  • Sophocles: Antigone
  • Classical sculpture: The Parthenon

III. Sacred space: challenge and revision

  • The Sophists
  • Euripides Hecuba
  • Greek vase painting: the development of illusionism and the problem of empty space
  • Plutarch The Decline of the Oracles

IV. Wisdom, images, idolatry: rethinking the heritage of Greece

  • The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon.
  • The Synagogue at Dura Europos
  • Gregory of Nyssa The Life of Macrina

RCHUMS 309 - Classical Sources of Modern Culture
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
P
28102
Open
4
 
-
MW 2:00PM - 3:30PM
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