Masterpieces of Western Literature
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The total reading for the course is almost 900 pages. I know, they are big pages with tiny print. The total number of pages is a bit inflated. I listed all of Dante's Inferno, but we will skim it in contrast to study-reading most of the other material. Most of the reading is poetry & plays, which means that the reading is less than half of what it appears (because of all the white space on pages of poetry & drama).
This is the schedule of reading for the course. Page numbers refer to the new 5th edition text:
Literature of the Western World,
Vol. 1, 5th edition.
Edited by Brian Wilkie & James Hurt, 5th edition. Prentice Hall.
These are Web pages for an online course I taught at West Texas A&M University in 2001 on world literature, from the ancient period through the early Renaissance.
You may wish to look at the chat questions. You will not be able to access the short answer questions, because they are on the WT-Online server. Use the maroon navigation bar at the top of each page to access the four pages that constitute each lesson. The bar looks like this:
Introduction Explication Questions Review
The navigation bar will only work for each unit or lesson. For example, if you access lesson 03 below, the navigation bar will only work "inside" unit 03. To access other units, return to this page to click on the unit number you want to see.
Unit Texts 01 Iliad: books 1, 6, 9; 1/3 units on the Iliad 02 Iliad: 2/3 unit 03 Iliad: 3/3 unit 04 The Odyssey, books 1-4. 05 The Odyssey, books 5-8 06 The Odyssey, books 9-12 07 The Odyssey, books 13-17 08 The Odyssey, books 18-24 09 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 10 Aeschylus, Libation Bearers, Eumenides 11 Antigone, Medea 12 Dante, Inferno 13 Boccaccio, Decameron 14 Cervantes, Don Quixote
Some of the links offered in lessons will not work, because they refer to pages that were on the West Texas server.
Unit Reading Work Pages 01 1-6; 127-160 The Iliad, 1/3 38 02 160-89 The Iliad, 2/3 29 03 189-272 The Iliad, 3/3 83 04 273-330 The Odyssey, 1/5 43 05 330-373 The Odyssey, 2/5 43 06 373-433 The Odyssey, 3/5 60 07 433-507 The Odyssey, 4/5 74 08 507-594 The Odyssey, 5/5 87 09 10-13, 612-69 Aeschylus, 1/2 60 10 669-740 Aeschylus, 2/2 71 11 741-3, 791-877 Sophocles, Antigone
89 12 1398-1543 Dante, Inferno 145 13 1849-64, 1876-1914 Boccaccio: Decameron 53 14 1987-2030 Cervantes: Don Quixote 43
Study-reading is not reading for entertainment. When you read for entertainment, you are most interested in following the plot to find out what happens next. Great literature does more than tell entertaining stories. Great literature has philosophical depth. It is dreamed up to illustrate profound ideas. It is more important to understand what a character represents than it is to find out what happens next in the plot. Especially in the Greek material, it is important to look up the characters you are unfamiliar with & to seek to understand what they personify, what they imply, & what their relationships with other characters are. The longest section of each unit is my explication of the text that you read. These are illustrative. They illustrate how a literary scholar study-reads a culturally significant text. The major objective of the course -- after simply reading some great literature -- is for you to develop similar skills. By the end of the course you should be able to apply your skill in literary analysis to other texts & to textual situations (e.g., politics, cultural studies, movies, TV, etc.).
Study reading cannot be rushed. I took a speed reading course in high school too. I have also taught developmental reading courses. So called "speed reading" is a kind of skimming that only allows you time to follow the thread of the idea in expository writing or the plot of a story. Students who do poorly in literature courses very often passively read through a text to find out what happens to the major character. Of course we need to know what literally happened in the plot. But this is not the end of our study. It is only the beginning. What happens to Akhilleus or Agamemnon occurs in order to illustrate philosophical, psychological, & political processes. We read great literature to better understand cultural concepts & processes, not simply to find out what happened to an imaginary character.
You will frequently need to read background material from your Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology or other reference work on Greek mythology. Do not be content with passive reading. After reading about a character in your Dictionary, seek to understand how what you read is relevant to Homer's work.
You will learn more about the process of literary analysis in working through each unit. Since we are at the beginning & I know that this process may still sound fuzzy, here is an example of studying-reading, paying attention to detail, & trying to fit the pieces together to see what they reveal.
At one point in The Iliad, Akhilleus (AK) sends his young protégé Patroklos (PAT) into battle wearing his armor. PAT fights HK (Hektor) for something like 6 hours (16.800: "high noon" until "when the sun passed toward unyoking time"). PAT suffers sunstroke: "dangerous Phoibos . . . stood behind & struck [PAT] with open hand." Who is Phoibos? Look him up. PAT is going to be killed & that is all that many students pay attention to: what happens next. Better students pay attention to the details:16.920 "his [PAT] shield & strap fell to the ground; The Lord Apollo, son of Zeus, broke off his cuirass." What is a cuirass? Look it up. It is a piece of armor that protects the throat & the area (front & back) below the throat. This piece falls off. PAT is killed by HK who 16.940 "lunged for him low in the flank, driving the spearhead through."
HK takes PAT's armor, which is really AK's armor. AK is, naturally, angry at PAT's death. How deeply does AK love PAT? AK has many other relationships, but when OD (Odysseus) finds him in the underworld, AK is accompanied by PAT: (ODY 11.516). AK will be enraged to find HK wearing his armor. Obviously HK wears it to taunt AK. Does the text explicitly say this? No, you infer it by study-reading. So AK is humiliated. We now see an instance of Greek paradox. What appeared to be a bad thing turns out to be a good thing (even though it doesn't annul or cancel the initial bad thing). HK has AK's armor. How well does AK know that armor that now protects HK? Obviously he knows it from having worn it for years. & when he wore it, what area of his body did he worry about? "That damned cuirass! It comes apart. It falls off." Does the text explicitly say this? No. You infer it from what happened to PAT, if you think about it instead of rushing off to find out what happens next, stopping to ask why it happened & what it means.
What happens next? AK kills HK:
(Iliad) 22.380 AK poised in his right hand with deadly
aim at HK, at the skin where most
it lay exposed. But nearly all was covered
by the bronze gear he took from slain PAT,
showing only, where his collarbones
divided neck & shoulders, the bare throat
How would AK have known where to aim his quick thrust at HK? Because
he knows the armor, having worn it & worried about exactly this slight
exposure. Even if you didn't immediately recall the association with
the cuirass & PAT's death, you might have wondered about the length
of description concerning this detail. "Nearly all was covered" by
the armor, except for this little bit of skin. Of course this is
important since it proves to be the exact spot where AK takes HK's life:
22.387 AK drove his point straight through the tender neck
Why does HK get the death blow here? You can't say, "it just happened that way." Literature is invented. Nothing happened. It is all imagined. & if it is good, there is a reason behind everything that happens. Your task is to discover the reason. I will stop, having illustrated that detail matters. Connections, allusions, associations, the footnotes, what you look up in your Dictionary or elsewhere (e.g., what is a cuirass?) -- all this matters in the process of understanding literature and consequently getting a high grade. It also takes time.
All of our short analysis illustrates the Greek cultural feeling or belief that reality is a fusion of opposites. Any significant experience is liable to be both bad & good. HK takes your armor in order to humiliate you. It enrages you, but it turns out to be a good thing, because now you know precisely where to aim your blow. Could this have been planned? Was it totally an accident? Is fate purposeful? Is it moral? Does it seek to reward & punish? Why do things happen? Are they punishments or rewards or simply accidents? Whoops . . . I promised to stop. But hopefully you begin to see how Homer's story has great cultural depth.
I illustrated a single instance of literary analysis. I am sure that I have convinced you that such analysis requires close, repeated reading of a text. When I make claims or judgments, I nearly always quote the exact line that led me to make the judgment I claim. Literary analysis requires tracking down unknown terms, such as the cuirass. It requires reconstruction or associative thinking in which you think about characters & plot events, not just to see what happens, but to inquire why it happened exactly this way & what that suggests or means.
I am sure some students find this burdensome. Having devoted much of my life to such games, I obviously find them interesting. I won't promise you collateral benefits -- claiming for example that your analytic skills will help you win arguments with your spouse, make you more money, etc. I will suggest that you are likely to get out of this course what you put into it. If you find the kind of analysis you just read boring or trivial or nick picking, I can predict that you are unlikely to find this class interesting or rewarding. Your teacher will prove to be a nick picking bore as well. Conversely, if you were intrigued by our analysis, I think you will find the course interesting. Certainly there is no better literature to be found anywhere else in the world or in other period of time in the West. Literary analysis does not require great talent nor immense erudition. It requires time, an interest in the text, & patience in regard to fitting pieces together that initially do not seem to fit. This is the same formula for success in any field: science, finance, theology, or art.
You will notice that the reading load differs each week. When we begin a long work, such as The Iliad or The Odyssey, there is more background & introductory work than for later units that continue to explicate the same work. When we reach lesson 3/3 on The Iliad, for example, you will have done the background work on characters, themes, & allusions. So we can cover more pages of plot.
I hope you decide to continue with the course & I look forward to learning how you analyze texts in our Chat sessions.