Humanities 101: Ancient Greece I

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Humanities 101: Ancient Greece I is at Wyoming Catholic College the freshman's introduction to the epic, with a beginning in the reading of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey as well as other major works of the time including Socratic dialogues in an attempt to begin to build an understanding of the Greek mind and the timeless search for immortality.


In the works of the ancient Greeks, the Western mind achieves its first comprehensive self-understanding centered in the paradigmatic choices of the hero. This course begins with the mythological splendor of Homer and the Homeric hymns which give us a picture of the highly contentious order of the Greek gods. At the same time, Homer depicts the pathos and grandeur of mortal men in the Trojan War, which has crucial importance for the gods themselves. Achilles in the Iliad and Odysseus in the Odyssey reveal two different versions of human excellence, one characterized by fearless openness and honor, the other by effective intelligence and the uses of deception.

In one way, Achilles foreshadows all those who shine with absoluteness and clarity against their enemies, but in another, he anticipates the tragic heroes of Aeschylus (encountered in the spring) and Sophocles (encountered this semester), who become victims of their own greatness. Understood cynically, Odysseus might anticipate the cunning of Machiavelli, but he also positively foreshadows Socrates and the philosophic alternative depicted in Plato’s dialogues. In the Symposium and Phaedrus, Plato explores the “epic” dimensions of philosophy and reason’s relationship to myth. Euripides’s Bacchae explores Dionysus as the symbolic figure of renewal and harmony—of life—as well as cruel destruction, while Sophocles’s Theban Plays depict the suffering and ultimate redemption of the incestuous parricide, Oedipus, in contrast with the tragic, untimely death of his young mother/sister who defied the polis in the name of a higher unwritten law. The Greek heroes reveal the perennial tensions between fate and freedom, family and city, heroic duty and common happiness, death, and the desire for immortality, that shape the classical tradition and that echo powerfully even in the modern soul.

Texts Used

  • Homer Hymns
  • Iliad
  • Odyssey
  • Sophocles, Oedipus the King, Antigone
  • Euripides, Bacchae
  • Plato, "Symposium", "Phaedrus"

Poems Memorized

  • William Wordsworth, "The World is Too Much With Us"
  • John Keats, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” Keats
  • A.E. Houseman, "To an Athlete Dying Young"
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,”

Typical Professors