Homer's Iliad presents a dark and difficult vision of the world, but one that nonetheless inspires. Casual cruelty, divine caprice, and savage violence test heroes and lesser folk and provoke a reckoning with the stark realities of both human vulnerability and capability. It inspires kind of terror, but still also somehow provides a kind of comfort, albeit one whose character seems almost beyond comprehension. By a close and careful reading of Homer's text, along with some reflections on more contemporary wars, including the current ones, we will try to examine these issues with one eye on the past and one on the present. Our goal will be to achieve some further understanding of war and human experience.
Before the universities established public-service programs in the twentieth century, many Americans prepared themselves for public life by studying Greek and Latin authors in school and college. In this course, using English translations, students survey an eighteenth-century classical curriculum and trace its influence in the political activity of Madison and others who guided the development of American governmental institutions.