This yearlong course invites students to read, discuss, and write about challenging and culturally formative texts of the last 3,000 years, from the Greek plays and Homer’s Odyssey to contemporary works of literature, such as Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire. Students will consider themes as central and far-reaching as the nature of truth, the role of power and ambition in society, the meaning of artistic freedom, the complications of race and gender, and the role of fate and free will in literature and culture. Essential questions will include:
- What does it mean to be educated, and how do we acquire knowledge and wisdom?
- How do ancient works establish archetypes and pose questions that remain relevant today?
- What dualities and oppositions (cultural, philosophical, moral) do these texts suggest?
- What are the challenges of reading works in translation, and what is the value in reading works that require “cultural translation”?
- How do recent literary works speak to the traditional Western canon?
- In what ways has the concept of a "canon" been used to silence and exclude people, and how can we acknowledge the value of these enduring works while integrating historically excluded and marginalized voices?
- In what ways might a text lend itself to different “readings”?
- In what ways does a literary work’s structure (i.e. sequencing, juxtapositions, lacunae) and language (i.e. word choice, literary devices, sentence length) shape/reinforce its content?
Students will hone and expand the writing skills introduced in Freshman Composition, crafting analytical and creative pieces, and responding to literary scholarship in order to deepen an understanding of the texts.
Texts may include:
- The Epic of Gilgamesh (2100 BC)
- Excerpts from Genesis, The Book of Job (10th-8th century BC)
- The Odyssey, Homer (8th century BC)
- The Oresteia, Aeschylus (458 BC)
- Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Sophocles (429 BC)
- The Clouds, Aristophanes (423 BC)
- The Republic, Plato (380 BC)
- The Metamorphoses, Ovid (8AD)
- The Gospel According to Jesus, Stephen Mitchell, trans. 1st century AD)
- The Inferno, Dante (1322)
- Excerpts from The Prince, Machiavelli (1532)
- Selected essays, Montaigne (1590s)
- Richard III (1592), The Merchant of Venice (1598), Othello (1603), Macbeth (1606), William Shakespeare
- Candide, Voltaire (1759)
- The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe (1774)
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (1847)
- Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
- Anna Karenina (1877), The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886), Leo Tolstoy
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), Oscar Wilde
- Death in Venice, Thomas Mann (1912)
- Dubliners, James Joyce (1914)
- The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka (1915)
- A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf (1929)
- Mythology, Edith Hamilton (1942)
- Endgame, Samuel Beckett (1957)
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark (1961)
- The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1966)
- If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino (1979)
- Maus, Art Spiegelman (1980)
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (1984)
- Perfume, Patrick Suskind (1985)
- Wartime Lies, Louis Begley (1991)
- Transmission, Hari Kunzru (2005)
- Black Swan Green, David Mitchell (2006)
- My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (2016)
- Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie (2017)