Epic of Id, Epic of Superego: A Freudian Reading of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Although the Iliad and Odyssey are often understood as two parts of a single larger story that manifests a single, coherent “heroic” worldview, an alternative perspective sees the Odyssey as essentially a repudiation of, and replacement for, the values of the Iliad. Indeed, from this point of view the Odyssey is often seen as standing in relation to the Iliad much as the New Testament is often seen as standing in relation to the Hebrew Bible.  This alternative perspective can be deepened by analyzing the two epics using Freud’s theory of the tri-partite psyche (a process that Freud himself often employed  when interpreting classic literature and other works of art). From this Freudian perspective, the Odyssey appears as the epic celebration of the hero of the superego (Odysseus) that repudiates and supersedes the Iliad, the epic celebration of the hero of the id (Achilles).
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Group Therapy with Great Books: On the Remaking of Adults through Lifelong Liberal Re-Education

LECTURES > Previous

Over the 70 years since 1946, the University of Chicago Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults has provided opportunities for intellectually curious adults to read and discuss selected “great books” under the guidance of staff instructors. Why? And why have intellectually curious adults continued to take advantage of these opportunities? In this lecture, I will attempt to answer these and related questions as part of a general reflection on the ends and means of lifelong liberal learning, drawing upon my own 20+ years of experience as a Basic Program instructor along with ideas as old and distant as Socrates’ and as recent and near as those of the late University of Chicago professor Herman Sinaiko. My starting point will be a 1958 observation by Warren Winiarski, then a Basic Program staff instructor, that in the Basic Program:
“[W]e re-open the universal problems and questions, and thus call into question the particular and specific answers which constitute the adultness of adults; we unmake adults — we make adults into children. Adult education of this kind is not a continuing of their education; it is the possibility of their being re-educated. For to be educated in this way means, in so far as the principles, answers and beliefs constitutive of adultness are questioned — to be de-educated or to unlearn what we learned before.”
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Jesus for Jews (and Others)

COURSES > LIFELONG

Although the figure of Jesus has permeated Western culture for nearly 2,000 years, many Jews and other non-Christians find the figure of Jesus a problematic one, difficult to study and comprehend. As a result, many of the great Western works that presuppose a sympathetic understanding of Jesus remain opaque. This course provides a sympathetic introduction to the figure of Jesus as well as an exploration of some of the challenges that Jews in particular often face in dealing with Christianity’s appropriation of one of Israel’s greatest sons. Readings from the Bible will be supplemented by Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Continue reading

Pirsig’s Progress: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a Modern Spiritual Journey

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Since its publication in 1974, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM) has been widely hailed as a modern classic as well as a work that defies conventional characterization. Part novel, part diary, part manifesto, ZAMM relates the thoughts and experiences of a philosophically-oriented unnamed middle-aged narrator as he progresses along a number of simultaneous personal journeys, all of which facilitate an overarching spiritual journey toward wholeness and wellness. Overall, though, ZAMM appears to be a special kind of “Chautauqua” designed to induce analogous journeys in readers. This course will undertake the ZAMM journey through close reading and discussion of this modern masterpiece along with related Platonic dialogues that lurk in the background. Continue reading

Hubris and Empire: Livy on the Early History of Rome

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

The Roman Empire is frequently evoked as a cautionary tale for modern America. Rising from humble beginnings, Rome dominated the western world for over 600 years before falling to barbarian hordes and its own dysfunction. As a Republic, Rome developed institutions based on law and justice that were used by the Founding Fathers of the United States as models for their own government, but which may also have contained the seeds of their own destruction. In this course we will read and discuss the first five books of Livy’s history, Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City), often known in English as The History of Rome. These books begin with the semi-mythical founding of Rome by Romulus and chronicle the early development Republic. Through his discussion of early Rome, Livy also gives us a commentary on the contemporary upheavals that he witnessed during his own lifetime as Rome moved from Republic to Empire under Julius and Augustus Caesar. Continue reading

Homer’s Odyssey

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Athough often regarded as the sequel to the Iliad, Homer’s Odyssey is perhaps better understood as an independent work with its own beginning, middle and end, and its own concerns, motifs and messages. This course provides participants an opportunity to personally engage with Homer’s “other”, “domestic” epic through close reading and discussion of the text in a way that pays due attention to both the “big picture” and the “little details” that combine to give the Odyssey a force that still resonates today. The process of gaining familiarity with, and insight into, the text and the culture(s) of which it was originally a part it will also shed light on some of the major differences — as well as some of the major commonalities — between “then” and “now”. No background or prior experience is required. Continue reading

Homer’s Iliad

COURSES > ONLINE

Often considered the first work of “Western literature”, Homer’s Iliad has been a major cultural force for over 2,500 years — both in its own right and in terms of the subsequent works that depend upon it. This course is an opportunity for participants to personally engage Homer’s epic through close reading and discussion of the text in a way that pays due attention to both the “big picture” and the “little details” that combine to make the Iliad the foundational masterpiece it is. The process of gaining familiarity with, and insight into, the text and the culture(s) of which it was originally a part it will also shed light on some of the major differences — as well as some of the major commonalities — between “then” and “now”. No background or prior experience is required. Continue reading

Introduction to the Book of Genesis as Literature

COURSES > ONLINE

For most people, reading the Bible from a secular perspective — as “literature” — is both an intensely challenging and an intensely rewarding experience that requires the re-evaluation of a range of preconceptions in order to appreciate the texts along the lines that the authors of the Bible did. This course introduces both the process of reading the Bible as literature and the Bible itself through a close reading and discussion of the first book in the biblical anthology, the Book of Genesis. Participants will also likely be introduced to less familiar aspects of themselves. Continue reading

Of Marriages and Manners: Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

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Though sometimes derided as an early form of superficial “chick lit”, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is in fact a sophisticated “novel of manners” suffused with penetrating sociological and psychological analyses of the British gentry of Austen’s day. This course is devoted to the close reading and discussion of Austen’s famous and well-loved novel with an eye towards understanding both Austen’s social critique in general and her assessment of the predicament of women in particular, as well as an appreciation of Austen’s literary craft. Continue reading

‘Rags to Riches,’ American Style: Classics from Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie

COURSES > ONLINE

Although the “rags to riches” motif is ancient and widespread, the American version has attained a unique place in world culture. This course examines two of the most well-known — but often little-understood — American embodiments of the “rags to riches” motif: the fictional characters of Horatio Alger, Jr. on the one hand, and the decidedly non-fictional Andrew Carnegie (who rose from poverty to become one of the richest men in the world) on the other. Readings include Alger’s all-time best-selling novel Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks and Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” essays. Continue reading