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.
Professors teach Legacies of the Ancient World for different reasons, and here’s mine: I think the historical long view — being able to historicize more than a couple of centuries back — is a powerful tool in any thinking kit. You may not use it often, but when you do bust it out, people are impressed. Also, recognizing cultural references (like the Trojan War or the Monkey King) is a kind of social currency: It signals that you had an elite education and can hold your own in a broad variety of situations. We will be reading pre-modern texts and some modern texts that were inspired by them, all focused on asking intelligent questions about unfamiliar material. That is what I call critical thinking.
It’s fair to say that this class involves light reading and heavy thinking. Expect to participate — I may toss facts into conversation, but I don’t lecture. There will be both traditional and nontraditional assignments.
Meg Worley’s PhD is in medieval literature, but at Colgate she teaches digital and visual rhetoric. She runs an informal and irreverent classroom.