Classical Civilizations 350: Homer and the Culture Wars


The Homeric poems, Iliad and Odyssey, have been "required reading" in Western culture from its first beginnings. Although a complete mystery in so many respects (their date and authorship are unknown; they resemble more a tradition than a text; they are blemished with imperfections), their literary influence has been vast, from Sappho and Greek tragedy to James Joyce's Ulysses and Derek Walcott's Homeros. What are the reasons for this enduring attraction? In this course we explored the monumentality of these two poems -- less their quality as great works of literature than their role as cultural icons, as signifiers of value, and as landmarks in the evolving relationship between literature and culture. Both poems were read selectively by way of background, but our main focus was on Homer's place -- the very idea of Homer -- in the culture wars of early modernity, in the 19th century, and even today. In this course, we studied the intellectual and cultural history of value, and Homer was our guide. Readings sampled ancient and modern authors, with selections from critics (Alcidamas, Plato, Aristotle, Swift, De Quincey, Lukacs, Auerbach, Bakhtin) to musicians (Wagner), philosophers (Plato, Vico, Hegel, Nietzsche), educators and politicians (Humboldt, Arnold, Kingsley, Gladstone), scholars (Wood, Lowth, Wolf, Parry), and finally archaeologists of the material past (Schliemann, Morris) and of the modern mind (Freud).  In the last week we looked at the recent inflammatory pamphlet about the canon and the university, Who Killed Homer?


Following are the class websites that were created by four different groups:

Representations of Homer's Ideas

The Many Faces of Homer

The Search For Troy

Politics, Women, and Homer


For additional resources related to Homer, visit Homer Resources.