106 | CCN: 22925

Rhetoric of Historical Discourse

Instructor: James I. Porter,

4 Units

Participants in this course can expect to accomplish two goals: they will become familiar with a fair amount of the two epics attributed to Homer (the Iliad and Odyssey); and they will learn how classical texts are received by later generations, with Homer as the centerpiece example. That is, we will look at the way in which classical texts are transmitted from the past and how they have survived (or have failed to survive) from antiquity into the present; 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, translated into different media—first writing, then sculpture, painting, poetry, cinema—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. And 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 and especially new “untimely” critiques of the often violent but ever alluring foundations of our culture. This process is still alive today.

Readings will include selections of early and later Greek and Roman revisions of Homer (Stesichorus, The Contest of Homer and Hesiod, Homeric Lives, Gorgias, Plato, Aristotle, Longinus, and Roman Greek sophistic authors and various works of art), as well as some of their modern counterparts, above all philosophers and cultural critics: Vico (The New Science), Swift (The Battle of the Books), Hegel (Aesthetics), Nietzsche (The Birth of Tragedy §§1-5; “Homer’s Contest,” Untimely Meditations, sels.), Horkheimer and Adorno (The Dialectic of Enlightenment), Auerbach (Mimesis, sels.), Simone Weil (The Iliad, or the Poem of Force), Rachel Bespaloff (War and the Iliad), Derek Walcott (Omeros), Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad), Christopher Logue (War Music), Kate Tempest (Brand New Ancients) and Paul Chan (Odysseus as Artist). Secondary readings, providing background and context, will accompany the primary materials.

Requirements: short writing assignments (bi-weekly blog postings and responses), a final (id's and essays), and one final collaborative project in any medium, including any non-textual medium (oral/aural, visual, or digital) to be presented during the last week of class. Please visit the bCourses course site for updates and for readings as they become available.