Legacy of the Mediterranean

*NOTE: All readings listed in the course descriptions below are subject to change.


FALL 2019


Ben Breyer

Legacy of the Mediterranean: The Present Past: Race, Gender and Ethnicity

In this class we will study the relationship between a selection of major texts from the ancient and medieval Mediterranean world and modern texts that reimagine and re-contextualize them. We’ll seek to understand how the modern writers use different historical and geographical contexts to give the language of the ancient and medieval texts alternate meanings, particularly as it pertains to notions of race, gender and ethnicity. The course reading list will include excerpts from Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, Sappho’s lyrics, Virgil’s Aeneid and lyric poems from Arab Andalusia, which will inform our analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks The Anniad , Derek Wolcott's Omeros and  Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land. 


Andrew Lynn

Legacy of the Mediterranean: Border Crossings 

When a poet takes his place on the tripod of the Muse, he cannot control his thoughts [and] is obliged to contradict himself... But for the legislator, this is impossible: he must not let his laws say two different things on the same subject. -- Plato, The Laws 

For Plato, literature is dangerous because it is ambivalent, or even self-contradictory. Where a virtuous society must set up boundaries – between right and wrong, or between inside and outside – literature tends to blur distinctions and connect ideas that should be kept apart. This writing course tests these ideas through a set of readings in “classical” Western literature. Does literature work as Plato believes it does, to subvert social norms and create ambiguity? Can literature also enforce boundaries and set up barriers? 

We will begin our investigation of these questions with a close look at figurative language – one of the primary devices poetry uses to connect ideas – in two archaic Greek poets, Homer and Sappho. We’ll then consider how classical Athenian tragedy represents cultural and gender difference: if theater is at its heart a kind of game with identity, what really happens when we dress up as other people? In our final unit, we’ll examine how two much later writers, Virgil and Dante, both model themselves on their Greek predecessors and fashion new roles for themselves as modern, political poets. Throughout the course, our literary readings will be accompanied by philosophical texts that will help us focus our thinking. 

Readings may include: literature from Ghosh, Sappho, Homer, Euripides, Virgil, Dante; philosophy and criticism from Longinus, Barthes, Butler, Douglas, Bourdieu.  Books for the course may be acquired via a semester-long loan via the Barnard FLIP library; purchasing the books will cost less than $30. 


Duygu Ula

Legacy of the Mediterranean: Queer/Migrant

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” -James Baldwin

This course focuses on modern and contemporary works about queer and/or migrant experiences in the Mediterranean. We will take the Mediterranean and its diasporas as a geopolitical site in which queer and migrant subjects negotiate their identities vis-à-vis dominant discourses of gender, sexuality, nationality and citizenship. We will investigate notions of home, belonging and identity for queer, immigrant, migrant and refugee subjects and pay particular attention to how these identities intersect in fiction, nonfiction, artistic and theoretical works by a wide range of authors. How are immigrant, migrant and refugee bodies racialized and queered by dominant discourses, for instance? How do queer subjects negotiate belonging when they travel across cultural, geographical, national, linguistic and religious borders? How do experiences of queerness and migration inform one another in these authors’ works?

Readings may include works by James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, C.P. Cavafy, Masha Gessen, Trish Salah, Négar Djavadi, Warsan Shire, Edward Said, Gayatri Gopinath, Jasbir Puar and Afsaneh Najmabadi.