Epic Journeys: From Homer to Dante
Spring 2019 quarter
When Dante opened his Divine Comedy with a line about his progress along “our life's path," he was relying on a well-worn metaphor, but one that leads to a truth about the way we think about ourselves and tell our stories. We want to believe that our lives are going somewhere, that our stories will make sense, and that we will transcend the mundane run of our days. Philosophy tries to describe our purpose or destination; religion, perhaps, to prescribe it; literature shows the journey there: Odysseus striving homeward, Aeneas seeking Rome, Dante climbing from Hell's pit into the stars of Paradise.
In this program we will study works of literature, philosophy, and theology from antiquity and medieval times that consider the wayfarer, the vagabond, the exile, and the pilgrim. Epic poetry is especially well-suited to these characters, and we will meet them in Homer’s Odyssey , Virgil’s Aeneid , and the Comedy . We will also be reading prose accounts which, like the poems, depict a transient human journey alongside an eternal divine order, including Plato's Phaedo, the Exodus and the story of Jesus in the Bible, Augustine’s Confessions , and a sample from Thomas Aquinas. Note that the reading expectation is especially substantial. Throughout the program, we will work as both readers and writers to articulate the significance of these foundational works to modern lives and journeys, including our own.
The goals of the program include a knowledge of fundamental texts in world literature and philosophy; experience reading sustained and complex narratives; an understanding of the interplay between form and thought in various genres; greater facility with expository and creative writing; and hopefully, new and convivial intellectual and artistic traveling companions. Our class time will be devoted heavily to book seminars and will also feature lectures and writing workshops.
Location and Schedule