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A Song of Two Syllabi with Prof. Wally Englert

By Lucy Bellwood '12 on June 12, 2011 05:09 PM

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The first lines of Homer's Iliad reverberated to the carved rafters of the chapel on Friday as Reedies of all generations were reunited in the shared experience of reliving their first Hum lecture during Centennial Reunions. However, there was a twist. On the back of the lecture handout (distributed by a beaming President Colin Diver, who marched up and down the aisles brandishing copies) was a timeline that began, not in Greece, but in Egypt. And the Homeric epic of choice for the semester was not the tale of Achilleus and his anger, but that of Odysseus and his quest to return home. As professor Wally Englert [classics 1981-] explained, the Hum syllabus has undergone some significant changes in the past year...

"We used to say 'The Greeks were strange,'" Englert noted, while discussing the inclusion of new material from other Mediterranean cultures on the reading list, "But I'm going to do something a little radical here and say: Ancient cultures were strange."

The laughter that followed came from alumni of all ages -- many of whom had experienced quite different versions of the Hum 110 we are familiar with today. As one audience member commented, Hum 11 (as it was known in her time) featured the Iliad and the Odyssey in alternating years. In the spirit of bridging the gap between the two syllabi, Englert led the crowd in a rousing rendition of both epics' first lines. Knowing both is crucial, he explained, if there is to be any hope of communication between those who have taken Hum in previous years and this year's batch of freshmen. After all, Reedies across the globe have long identified each other by their ability to utter Homer's magical incantations.

In closing, Englert called upon the crowd to model themselves after the wily Odysseus in their exploration of the new syllabus and the world at large by being "wary, slow to be taken in, and prepared for anything." Given the eruption of cheers and applause that followed the end of his lecture, it seems our alumni are more than up to the task. Watch the full video.