These seminars explore texts from the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world that have given rise to some of the philosophical, political, religious, and artistic traditions associated with “The West.” The texts articulate perennial issues: the nature of the human and the divine; the virtues and the good life; the true, the just, and the beautiful; the difference between subjective opinion and objective knowledge. They exemplify basic modes of speech, literary forms, and patterns of thinking that establish the terminology of academic and intellectual discourse and critical thought: epic, rhetoric, tragedy, epistemology, science, democracy, rationality, the soul, spirit, law, grace. Such terms have shaped the patterns of life, norms, and prejudices that have been continually challenged, criticized, and refashioned throughout history. To highlight both the dialogue and conflicts between the texts and these traditions, these seminars focus on both the historical contexts of these texts and the ongoing retellings and reinterpretations of them through time. Moreover, the courses emphasize that Western traditions were not formed in a vacuum but developed in dialogue and conflict with other traditions, some of which lie beyond the geographical area of “The West.” To accomplish their objectives the seminars are necessarily multidisciplinary. Common to all sections of “Legacies of the Ancient World” are classic works such as Homer, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, Plato, and a Roman text. Complementary texts or visual materials from the ancient period, in and beyond the Western world, and/or response texts from the medieval or contemporary periods are added in individual sections or groups of sections. Students who successfully complete one of these seminars will satisfy the Legacies of the Ancient World core requirement.
In this course, we explore a few texts of such stunning insight, beauty, and power that they—along with a few other works—created a civilization; they continue to challenge and often inform the best minds in the world. If you want to understand—or rather, begin to understand—human dignity, honor, friendship, faith and the divine, laughter, justice, wisdom, beauty, courage, leadership, citizenship, virtue, power, authority, and sacrifice, you’d be well advised to start here! Be forewarned, these works will not give you any direct answers, a simple set of ideas you can copy down and claim thereby to possess wisdom. In fact, these texts don’t entirely square within one another. Indeed, it is their tensions with one another, in effect, their argument with one another about fundamental questions, that forms the fabric of the civilization they called into being. And a further warning, these works yield their richness only upon serious, rigorous, and sustained effort. Happily, that effort can also be a great delight, as well as a fulfillment of a Colgate requirement.
Stanley C. Brubaker, professor of political science, teaches at the intersection of political philosophy, constitutional law, and American politics. For many years he directed Colgate University’s Washington Study Group program and was cofounder of its Institute for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (now the Lampert Institute).