106 | CCN: 35279

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 in the first half of the term will cover antiquity: the archaeology of Troy, the history of the Trojan War, the Homeric poems (read selectively), and ancient critiques or revisions of Homer (Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Gorgias, Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, Longinus, Dio Chrysostom). The second half will cover selected modern counterparts, above all philosophers, cultural critics, and poets: Vico, Hegel, Nietzsche, Horkheimer and Adorno, Auerbach, Simone Weil, Rachel Bespaloff, Derek Walcott, Christopher Logue, and Kate Tempest. Secondary readings, providing background and context, will accompany the primary materials.

Requirements: two in-class presentations, a take-home midterm (essay format), and a final paper (ca. 8-10 pp.), to be presented in draft during the last week of class. Please visit the bCourses course site for updates and for readings as they become available.