Mateo Burtch ’82 can recall attending lectures
in the chilly basketball court in the gym. He learned to wear a sweater
in class and learned “a whole way of thinking that embraced critical
analysis, thorough research, original thought, and collegial disputation.”
Burtch adds, “The Iliad is one of the best arguments for
reading the Dead White Male canon, for it shows us just how much, and
how little, civilization has changed in 3,000 years.”
“The course absolutely defines your freshman year,” says Gavin
Kentch, a junior from Alaska. “It is eye-opening, epiphanic, revelatory,
what-ever flowery adjective you like.”
Kentch’s mother, Susan Orlansky ’75, still holds fond memories
of Hum. On a recent family vacation to Greece she recognized two fallen
warrior statues that were the subject of a paper she wrote 30 years ago.
“It completely brought me back to my time at Reed,” says Orlansky,
now an attorney in Anchorage. “A lot of my college experience blurs
together after all these years, but Hum still stands out.”
And unlike many required courses at other schools, Hum ain’t easy.
The course grounds students in classic works of literature and teaches
them to read deeply, to think big, and to listen as well as to argue.
A kind of campus cult has grown up around Hum. A couple of students sitting
in commons heatedly arguing about Plato’s Republic over
lunch might draw a crowd as passing students listen in or, more likely,
jump into the action. And there are all the inside jokes, of course. If
someone makes a casual joking reference to Hesiod, everyone gets it even
if they might think the speaker somewhat pretentious.
The fall starts off with Wally Englert, Omar and Althea
Hoskins Professor of Classical Studies and Humanities, leading the lecture
hall in a rousing singalong of the Iliad’s first line in
Greek. When Englert was on leave last year, student veterans of Hum 110
recreated the event in a Paideia class so that year’s freshman class
wouldn’t miss out on the experience. And every spring ends with
the freshman class putting on a performance of skits poking gentle (and
sometimes not so gentle) fun at the course and professors.