Reed Magazine August


The (Un)Changing Face of Hum 11O

The outward appearance of stasis and continuity, however, belies a series of profound internal transformations. The ways in which the texts are taught today is startlingly different from how they were taught 20 or even 10 years ago. At one point, Hum 110 was in large part a celebration of Western rationality and the so-called Greek miracle, a chronicle of reason’s triumph over the superstitious prejudices of the pre-philosophical mind. As such, the course pursued a range of important, timeless themes: the relationship between individual and society, the rise of naturalism in art, the problem of physis and nomos, and so on.

But over time, new issues have emerged as important topics of inquiry. Students and faculty now ask difficult, highly critical questions about a society whose success was dependent on slave labor. They wonder about the vexing role of sex and gender in shaping and directing the Greek mind. They think about the development of Greek culture in the context of other ancient cultures, such as Persia, understood not as barbarian in the pejorative sense but as complex and highly developed civilizations; and they ponder the peculiar idea of a democracy in which only a small fraction of the adult population had any real political status. In addition to all this, strategies of textual interpretation are now very different. Plato’s dialogues are read not simply as compendiums of philosophical arguments but as dramatic works where the interplay of character and setting itself tells a tale. Tragic literature is read with a view toward explaining the contested and elusive nature of meaning and connotation. Art objects are examined as more-or-less coherent systems of signs, the precise sense and reference of which can be constructed only from one or another particular socio-historical perspective.

In all of this, the pedagogy of the faculty amply reflects the development of disciplinary traditions. The interests, approaches, problems, and methodological tools of literary criticism in 2004 are very different from what they were in 1964; and so, too, for all of the other disciplines. Each discipline evolves over time; and this evolution necessarily manifests itself in the intellectual life of the Reed faculty, composed of highly accomplished teacher-scholars. Therefore, it’s inevitable that today’s Plato will be profoundly different from yesterday’s, as will virtually every other text in the course. Hum 110 is fundamentally, and inherently, a matter of new wine poured into old bottles; and in this sense, the history of the course is the history of constant, on-going and often quite radical change.

But if constancy is the thesis and metamorphosis the antithesis, then surely the synthesis is, at once, neither and both of these. For Hum 110 has always been an introduction to the liberal arts. It invites students not simply to consider the range of disciplines that compose a liberal arts curriculum, but to consider them explicitly in the light of one another: each understood as a particular mode of thought, a distinctive way of thinking about the world. What does it mean to think like a literary critic, and how is that different from thinking like a historian or a philosopher or a social scientist? Directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, Hum 110 has always been devoted to this kind of comparative exploration, and always with the added twist that the disciplines are best introduced by looking closely at their own origins. Within the Western tradition, the discipline of history was pretty much invented by Herodotus and Thucydides; philosophy by the pre-Socratics, sophists and Socratic thinkers; and tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. A focus on the original development of disciplinary thinking, along with the conviction that tackling such material can be an important part of what it means to become a serious person, has always been a central feature—arguably the central feature—of Hum 110. In this fundamental sense, the course hasn’t changed at all.

But such an unchanging focus on comparative disciplinary education reflects the unavoidable fact that the disciplines themselves constantly evolve in all kinds of ways. In effect Hum 110 has maintained a resolute, unchanging, utterly continuous focus on a subject matter that is itself continually in flux and whose changes have, moreover, profound implications for just what it means to “focus” on a subject. Change in Hum 110 is both real and apparent; and the on-going tension between the old and the new, the continuous and the discontinuous, the traditional and the revolutionary is arguably what gives the course its energy, its liveliness, its capacity to surprise, and its constant and unalterable sense of immediacy and relevance. End of Article

Peter J. Steinberger is Dean of Faculty and Ellis Professor of Political Science and Humanities.

Humanities 110 Reading List

The following was the reading list for the course in 2003-04. The Fall 2004 reading list for Hum 110 is online.


Aeschylus, The Oresteia, trans. Lloyd-Jones (California)

Aristophanes, Lysistrata, trans. Henderson (Focus)

Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Irwin (Hackett)

Curd, ed., A Presocratics Reader (Hackett)

Essays on Ancient Greece (pamphlet in bookstore)

Euripides, Euripides V: Electra, The Phoenician Women, The Bacchae, ed. Grene and Lattimore (Chicago)

Herodotus, The History, trans. de Selincourt (Penguin)

Hesiod, Theogony, Works and Days, and Shield, trans. Lombardo (Hackett)

Homer, The Iliad, trans. Lattimore (Chicago)

Miller, Greek Lyric: An Anthology in Translation (Hackett)

Murray, Early Greece, 2nd ed. (Harvard)

Plato, Plato’s Republic, 2nd ed., trans. Grube and Reeve (Hackett)

Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates, trans. Grube (Hackett)

Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece (Yale)

Sophocles, Sophocles I: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, ed. Grene and Lattimore (Chicago)

Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides, trans. Strassler (Simon and Schuster)

Recommended texts

Hacker, A Writer’s Reference, 3rd ed. (Bedford)

Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Fitzgerald (Doubleday)

J.A.C.T., The World of Athens (Cambridge)

Marius, A Writer’s Companion, 3rd ed. (McGraw)

Osborne, Archaic and Classical Greek Art (Oxford)

Williams, Style: Toward Style and Grace (Chicago)

Humanities 110 Reading List

The following was the reading list for the course in 2003-04. The Fall 2004 reading list for Hum 110 is online.


Apuleius, The Golden Ass, trans. Lindsay (Indiana University Press)

Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony the Great (Eastern)

Augustine, Confessions (Oxford University Press)

Beard and Crawford, Rome in the Late Republic (in bookstore and on reserve)

Brown, World of Late Antiquity (W. W. Norton)

Garnsey and Saller, Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture (University of California Press)

Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin USA)

Livy, Early History of Rome (Penguin USA)

Lucretius, The Way Things Are (De Rerum Natura) (Indiana University Press)

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version: College Edition (Oxford University Press)

Ovid, Metamorphoses (Oxford World Classics)

Readings on the Roman World (pamphlet in bookstore)

Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca (W. W. Norton)

Tacitus, The Agricola and the Germania (Penguin USA)

Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome (Penguin USA)

Virgil, The Aeneid (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publications)

Reed Magazine August