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

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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

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

Fighting Theater with Theater: Plato’s Dialogues as Philosophical Dramas

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“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
               – Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

“There is another art which imitates by means of language alone, and that either in prose or verse … but this has hitherto been without a name.  For there is no common term we could apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues on the one hand; and, on the other, to poetic imitations in iambic, elegiac, or any similar meter.”
                      – Aristotle, Poetics 1447a27-1447b12

Although there is an ancient and venerable tradition of reading Plato’s Socratic Dialogues as “philosophy” to be analyzed primarily (if not only) in terms of their logical propositions, there is an even older (although today, much less venerable) tradition of reading the Plato’s Dialogues as dramas that embody a certain type of philosophical activity. In this lecture, we will consider what it means to take a “dramatic approach” to the Dialogues and explore some of the insights into Plato’s work that such an approach can yield. In particular we will consider that it means to think of Plato primarily as the revolutionary successor to Homer rather than primarily as the evolutionary successor to Socrates. Or rather, how it is best to think of Plato as the incomparable union of the two, fostering “Better Souls Through Better Shadows”. 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

Divine Epics [1]: Hebrew Bible, Iliad, and Qur’an

COURSES > LIFELONG

This course is a rare opportunity to compare three foundational texts that are usually read independently or in pairs, yielding surprising insights into the texts and ourselves. Reading the Hebrew Bible with the Iliad illuminates the polytheistic elements of the Bible and the ways modern readers are conditioned to misread it as a purely monotheistic work. Reading the Qur’an alongside the Hebrew Bible illuminates the Biblical foundations of the Qur’an and the reasons many readers of the Bible assume the Qur’an “got it all wrong.” Through close, coordinated readings participants will understand three divine epics in a new light. Continue reading

To the End of the Earth and Back Again; Or, Whose Odyssey is It Anyway?

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Traditional accounts of Homer’s Odyssey often focus on the “facts” that it: 1) it is a “sequel” to the Iliad — and thus 2) the second great (and second greatest) work of Western “literature” — which 3) tells the story of Odysseus’s ten-year homecoming from the Trojan War, although it 4) begins “in media res” (in the middle of things) with the problem of the suitors on Ithaca and Odysseus’s captivity with Calypso, rather than at “the beginning” with the fall of Troy. Indeed, many a reader’s experience with, and understanding of, the Odyssey is crucially influenced by their expectation that the text will conform to thes “facts”. But is this the most useful way of approaching this important work?

 In this lecture, I will outline some of the consequences of reading the Odyssey with these expectations in mind and why these expectations may be unwarranted. Most importantly, however, I will suggest how an approach to the text as a stand-alone work can yield a significant and perhaps unexpected reading that is both more personal and more profound than traditional ones. Continue reading