Legacy of the Mediterranean


"Custom and authority are no sure evidence of truth." Isaac Watts, Logic; or, The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth (1802)

Where do our (often unconscious) assumptions about our world and our place in it come from? This course explores key intellectual moments in the literature of the Mediterranean world, whose ideas gave rise to the structures governing much of the Western world today -- structures that sustain and perpetuate ideas about power, authority, gender, and morality that influence our lives in ways both visible and invisible. We read these texts, primarily imaginative literature, to see how they reify, comment upon, resist and/or imagine alternatives to existing social and ideological structures; reading in this way allows us to consciously name and examine how ideology both shifts over time and, in vital ways, remains constant, inviting us to question the myth of progress at the heart of canonicity. No two syllabi are exactly the same, but works studied in the fall term include Homer, The OdysseyThe Homeric Hymn to Demeter; Euripides, The Bacchae; Virgil, Aeneid; Dante, Inferno; Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe; and Shakespeare. Works studied in the spring term include Milton, Paradise Lost; Voltaire, Candide; ; William Wordsworth (selected poetry); Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Darwin, Marx, and Freud (selected essays); Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land; Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse; Zora Neale Hurston, Of Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God; Toni Morrison, Beloved; and Nella Larsen, Passing. Critical scholarship from a variety of traditions (feminist, queer, post-colonial) and thinkers (bell hooks, Christine Froula, Edward Said, Karen Horney, Toni Morrison) allows us to interrogate these texts and the traditions they support, complicate, challenge, etc.