Fall 2011 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions
Description of Course:
The Western Literary Tradition: Nature and Human Nature
In the West the eternally vexed question of whether human beings have a nature at all, and if so, what is that nature, has never gone away. It is evident in the earliest human cave-paintings and is the core theme of the oldest known piece of human literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh. It energized the poets, the dramatists, the Greek philosophers, the European Renaissance, the American founders, and the Romantics. It reappears today in the three-way argument among social constructionists who deny the existence of an essential human nature, evolutionists who see our nature as that of just another animal, and creationists who believe we have a supernatural "nature" as well as a natural one.
In parallel with this old controversy there has been an equally ancient argument about the nature of nature itself. What are species of things? Are they fixed--can they change? Is reality that which moves and changes, or that which does not? What is matter made of? Where did it come from, or has it always existed? Are inanimate, living, and conscious beings essentially different? Are we part of, or different from, nature? Can values and laws be derived from nature?
The class will investigate these questions and poetic themes using a wide variety of texts, a version of the Socratic method of investigation, and readings by the class.
This book list is tentative, but it will give a rough idea of the readings for the course.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford U.P.
Sophocles: Oedipus the King trans. Bernard Knox Pocket Books Washington Square Press, 1994
Plato: The Republic, ed. C.M.A Grube, Hackett
Lucretius: On the Nature of Things, Focus Publishing
The Riverside Shakespeare
John Milton: Paradise Lost, Norton
Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species, Signet
Ferguson, etc, eds: The Norton Anthology of Poetry
Frederick Turner: Genesis: An Epic Poem, Ilium Press
Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:
Each class will begin with or end with a quiz on the week's reading. Students will be expected to keep up with a fairly heavy reading schedule, attend all classes from start to finish, and be prepared to speak in class.