Studies in Ancient Literature
Homer: Invention and Reception
Ancient materials about Homer (philosophy and literary criticism mainly) will be discussed in the first half, and modern materials 2nd half, including Vico, Hegel, Nietzsche, Hokheimer and Adorno, E. Auerbach, S. Weil, R. Bespalof, D. Walcott.
The seminar will examine how classical texts are received by later generations, with Homer as the centerpiece example. We will look at the multifarious ways in which classical texts are transmitted from the past and how they have survived (or failed to survive) from antiquity into the present; how even their imperfect or failed survival can become a theme of reception; how readers have sought to make sense of them and to locate them in reality; and how Homer’s originally sung texts were changed (adapted, used, quoted, sometimes maligned and abused, sometimes creatively reshuffled or translated into different media—first writing, then visual art—or transposed into geographical and archaeological inquiries) while still remaining identifiably “Homeric,” and in this way came to constitute a Homeric tradition that continues to flourish today. Because this tradition has had to invent its source (Homer, whose identity is utterly mysterious and may turn out to be an idea, not a person), the tradition is literally eccentric in all of its manifestations: at its center stands an absent and empty name (“Homer”) and an unanswerable question (“Who was Homer?”). Wrestling with these dilemmas has long been a productive way to generate new cultural forms of expression and especially new “untimely” critiques of the often violent but ever alluring foundations of our culture. This process is still alive today.
The seminar will fall roughly into two parts: (I) the invention and reception of Homer in antiquity; the archaeology of Troy, the history of the Trojan War, the Homeric poems (read selectively through contemporary approaches especially in the new materialisms [Purves, Holmes, Grethlein, alongside relevant selections from the contemporary literature]), and ancient critiques or revisions of Homer in different areas (lies and truth-telling, sophistic revision, literary and philosophical criticism) from the Presocratics to Roman imperial writers; (II) selected modern counterparts, above all philosophers, cultural critics, and poets: Vico, Hegel, Nietzsche, Horkheimer and Adorno, Auerbach, Weil and Bespaloff, Borges, and Derek Walcott. Secondary readings providing background and context will accompany the primary materials. But this is a tentative list that we can modify once we assemble for our first meeting—or sooner if you wish to contact me now (firstname.lastname@example.org). Requirements: one or two in-class presentations on the assigned readings; final seminar paper on any area, period, genre, discipline, or language. Archaeologists and visual studies students are especially welcome. No prerequisites: all readings will be made available in translation. Those with ancient or modern languages can bring their insights to the seminar and are encouraged to form reading groups to discuss the originals together. Please visit the bCourses course site for updates and for readings as they become available.