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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Homer’s Odyssey

COURSES > ONLINE

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

On the Transvaluation of Viking Values: Nietzsche Reads Beowulf

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

In his Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche traces what he calls the “slave revolt in morality”, an episode of the “transvaluation of values” in which Western notions of “right” and “wrong” were inverted. As a consequence, the “master morality” of the Greco-Roman world (embodied in its epics) was replaced by the “slave morality” of Judeo-Christian world (embodied in its scriptures) and what was formerly “good” became “evil” and what was formerly “bad” became “good”. This lecture will apply Nietzsche’s paradigm to Beowulf — arguably a “Christian Viking” work about the “pagan Viking” past — in an effort both to better understand the poetic significance of the life and death of the great hero Beowulf and to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Nietzsche’s theory. Continue reading

Sweet Homer, Chicago: A Summer Reading of the Iliad

COURSES > LIFELONG

Homer’s Iliad has inspired audiences for nearly 3,000 years. This course will provide students with a rigorous but relaxed opportunity to study this seminal epic through close reading and discussion. Students will better understand the work itself, the culture that produced it, and the Iliad’s role as the “starting point” for all that came after. Continue reading

Aeneas Gets an Epic: Virgil’s Aeneid and the Invention of the ‘Greco-Roman’ World

LECTURES > PREVIOUS [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

Both in its conception and in its execution, Virgil’s Roman epic the Aeneid is intimately dependent upon Homer’s Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Indeed Virgil goes out of his way to both imitate Homer’s poems and to connect his story with Homer’s stories.  This lecture will explore the various relationships between Virgil’s work and Homer’s works in order to better understand both the Aeneid as a work of literature and Virgil’s cultural project to portray Rome as an integral part of the classical Greek world. Continue reading

Delivered from Destruction: The Bible’s Exodus and Virgil’s Aeneid

COURSES > LIFELONG

Origin or foundation epics are common to many cultures. In this course we will examine two such epics side-by-side: the Exodus epic (Exodus-Joshua) from the Bible, in which the Israelites are transformed from slaves in Egypt into masters in Canaan, and Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the vanquished at Troy are transformed into the victors at (what will become) Rome. Through careful consideration of both stories we will seek to better understand each epic in its own right as well as what the two stories have in common and what makes each story unique. Continue reading

Divine Epics [3]: The Qur’an and The Aeneid

COURSES > LIFELONG [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

Both the Aeneid and the Qur’an can be viewed as the culmination of divine trilogies — the Aeneid completes the story begun in the Iliad and Odyssey, and the Qur’an follows the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (or, more precisely: the Torah and the Gospel).  This course will examine these “sequels,” both as independent works and in terms of their relationships to their precursors.  In addition, we will also compare and contrast Virgil’s account of the “Trojan exodus” of Aeneas, which culminates in the foundation of Rome, with the Exodus from Egypt, which culminates in the foundation of Israel. Continue reading

Divine Epics [2]: Homer and the Bible

COURSES > LIFELONG

This course is a rare opportunity to compare four foundational texts that are usually read independently or in pairs, yielding surprising insights into the texts and ourselves. Beyond extending an existing story, sequels comment upon, reinterpret, and at times even repudiate the events and values of the original. This course examines the Odyssey as a sequel to the Iliad and the New Testament as a sequel to the Hebrew Bible in an effort to understand the later works both as independent works and in terms of their vital relationship to their predecessors. Continue reading