Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione
“The ancients decided that reading should begin from Homer and Vergil, though it requires a firm sense of judgment to understand their virtues.”
Veteres instituerunt, ut ab Homero atque Vergilio lectio inciperet, quamvis ad intelligendum eorum virtutes opus esset firmiori iudicio.
Recently I spent an afternoon chatting with Liv Albert of the amazing “Let’s Talk about Myths, Baby” Podcast. During this podcast, she got me to range far and wide talking about “Homer” and the “idea of Homer” and toxic heroism and more.
If you’ve never listened to Liv’s podcast, you should. She asks great questions, has a fabulous sense of humor, and knows what she’s talking about.
Simonides, fr. 6.3
“Simonides said that Hesiod is a gardener while Homer is a garland-weaver—the first planted the legends of the heroes and gods and then the second braided together them the garland of the Iliad and the Odyssey.”
I have shared some of my successes and failures from Greek Classes before on this site–I like to celebrate student achievements where I can and also share the little bit I learn about trying to get out of their way while they are in the business of actually learning. Two of my colleagues at other universities have shared some of their student projects this semester, and I think both projects deserve wider notice.
Podcasting the Iliad
Dr. Deborah Beck at the University of Texas had her students produce podcasts on specific passages from Homer’s Iliad. (Deborah has created a great list of instructions she is happy to share with anyone who contacts her.) Each podcast lasts about 12 minutes and can be listened to in sequence or as a standalone piece. The podcasts started as class presentations and were be expanded with reflections on the process of preparing a class as well as the content. The podcasts are produced by the students and they are of a fine quality–they are listenable, personable and enjoyable. The discussions are deep and indicative of sustained and meaningful engagements with the text. After just a few minutes of listening, I became convinced that this is a project worth repeating.
Dr. Beck starts the project off herself with a nice introduction and a discussion of Iliad 22.199-213. In looking at Hektor’s flight from Achilles provides her an opportunity to think about divine engagement in the war “helps to …make the Iliad a universal story of loss and war rather than a more simplistic and less interesting victory song of the Greeks.”
The first student presentation by Ethan Russo looks at Achilles’ reflection on Hektor and his treatment of the body. Ethan emphasizes the emotive experience of reading the passage out-loud as a method in re-embodying the text. The third episode turns to Andromache’s laments for Hektor and how the narrator characterizes her ignorance (“evoking the distance between Andromache’s expectations and reality”). Sam Ross’s reflections on presenting this text in class are a personal and useful reminder of what it is like for anyone to plan a class.
Altogether the podcasts provide an intimate view of the tools and assumptions that shape the way we read Homer together. Claudia Cockerell brings us to the beginning of book 23 in the 4th episode and asks us to think about the catharsis of the coming funeral. She starts with a reading of the appearance of Patroklos at the beginning of the book and “the fact that Patroklos thinks they will be able to embrace one more time further underlines how little he knows of the current situation”. Claudia communicates her own deep conflict in witnessing the dream sequence and being unsure of which character deserves our pity.
In Episode 5, Austin McDow expands on the simile which precedes Priam’s supplication of Achilles in the middle of book 24 (24.424-506). Austin does a great job of invoking the basic themes of Priam’s katabasis before turning to the simile–he summarizes how his fellow students responded to his simile and the potentially ungovernable range of responses to such a charged moment.
In Episode 6, Rachel Pritchett focuses on Achilles’ response to Priam’s request–she surveys each of Achilles’ speeches in book 24 to show how each one of them emphasizes “important insights into the character’s worldview, emotions, and sympathies.” Staying with this movement, Trey Timson uses Episode 7 to talk about Achilles’ myth of Niobe in book 24. This paradeigma (a hero’s telling of a previous myth for a specific purpose) is one of the more hotly debated topics in Homeric scholarship. Trey brings together multiple interpretations and the conventional tale to bear on the strangeness and power of this moment. He notes smartly that ancient audiences might not be troubled by contradictions–he sees a blend of different traditions operative at the same time. (He spends an extra bit of time focusing on the importance of sitos (“grain”) in this passage.)
Episode 8 (which comes a bit out of order) looks at the final 100 lines of the Iliad. Lauryn Hanely provides a proud overview of the poem’s end, starting with a tangent about the importance of a three-act structure for works of art, separating the poem into three parts. For her, books 23 and 24 present the denouement of the three-part movement. Lauren goes through the powerful laments that close the epic’s final book
One of the neatest things about this project is that it is clear that the students have listened to each other both inside and outside of class and that their interpretation of the poem is a both a product of and producer of a community, the very thing the Homeric poems are too.
Gnomologium Vaticanum, 469
[Plato] used to say that someone being educated needs three things: ability, practice and time.”
Dr. Suzanne Lye’s Greek class at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill did a puppet show based on Lysias’ “Murder of Eratosthenes”.
Ok, this is awesome. Puppets? Murder? There is something for everyone! In all seriousness, it is a great exercise for teamwork, pronunciation, and a deeper understanding of the speech. The show replays part of the case–this is some Law and Order stuff here–which means students have to investigate material culture and the legal background more extensively than one might in a typical class.
If you have any great projects with an online presence, let me know. I would be happy to share them.
“Noble Socrates reproached fathers who did not teach their sons and then, when they were destitute, took their sons to court and sued them as ungrateful because they did not support their parents. He said that the fathers were expecting something impossible: those who have not learned just actions are incapable of performing them”