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LIT 224 — Ancients and Moderns: Readings in the Human Condition

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 16—Mar 20
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Jan 29
Units: 2
Tuition: $500
Instructor(s): William M. Chace
Limit: 30
Status: Open
Winter
On-campus
Wednesdays
7:00—8:50 pm
Date(s)
Jan 16—Mar 20
10 weeks
Drop By
Jan 29
2 Units
Fees
$500
Instructor(s):
William M. Chace
Limit
30
Open
Does our comprehension of the human condition improve over time? This question was at the heart of a dispute, the “Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns,” a literary and artistic debate that heated up in the early 17th century in France and England and shook the Académie française. On one side of the debate were the Ancients who supported the merits of the ancient authors, and contended that a writer could do no better than imitate them. On the other side were the Moderns who argued that modern science, scholarship, and technology had revealed the impoverished understanding of the Ancients.

We can ask the same question today: Have we, in the literary works we as humans have written about ourselves, become wiser about who and what we are? To illuminate this complex question, we will read, in alternate weeks, an “ancient” work and a “modern” work. For instance, we will read and discuss the biblical Book of Job, and the following week, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. By putting these texts side by side, we will study how we, as humans, have struggled at very different historical times with absurd adversity. Readings in other weeks will include Sophocles’ Antigone and the contemporary novelist Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire; and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral. Our meetings will provide the framework for what should be a freewheeling conversation about the progress, or the lack thereof, in our self-understanding.

William M. Chace, Honorary Professor of English, Emeritus, Stanford; President Emeritus, Emory University

William M. Chace taught at Stanford for twenty years before becoming president of Wesleyan University (1988–1994) and then president of Emory University (1994–2003). He is the author of several books and articles. Chace received an MA and a PhD from UC Berkeley.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Robert Coles (Editor), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (ISBN 978-1570751943)
(Required) Kafka, Metamorphoses (ISBN 978-0393923209)
(Required) Sophocles, Three Theban Plays (ISBN 978-0140444254)
(Required) O'Neill, Long Day's Journey Into Night (ISBN 978-0300186413)
(Required) Roth, American Pastoral (ISBN 978-0375701429)
(Required) Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (ISBN 978-0-679-64260-2)
(Required) Shamsie, Home Fire (ISBN 978-0-7352-17690)
(Required) King James and Bible, Holy Bible (King James Version) (ISBN 978-0199535941)
DOWNLOAD THE PRELIMINARY SYLLABUS » (subject to change)