Humanities Core: Great Books, Big Ideas—Europe, the Ancient World (Classics 37 / DLCL 11 / HumCore 11), Autumn 2019

This course was part of the larger ‘Humanities Core‘ curriculum which consists of several courses focussing on the literary traditions of Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, which run through the autumn, winter, and spring quarter and cover (in the case of Europe) literature from Graeco-Roman Antiquity, the Renaissance, and the British Empire. They are intended to “give[] Stanford undergraduates an accessible and structured / curated introduction to culture, art, literature, politics, religion, and history” and to be “a chance to explore traditions, texts, and ideas around the world through an integrated set of elective courses.”[1]

In this course, we’ve covered parts of the canonical literature from Hesiod to Augustine, focussing on a range of topics such as inventing origins and heroes, war, love, power, community, happiness, empire, and the divine. In addition, each week one of the primary instructors of each geographical area lectured on a key text (e.g. Gilgamesh, the Confucian Analects, the Talmud, etc.), so that all students were exposed to texts and topics from different cultures.

Course Meetings

I co-taught this course together with Grant Parker. Together, we’ve redesigned the syllabus and met with the students twice per week for 90 minutes each. Each week had a topical focus (see above) and usually consisted of a brief introduction by us, followed by a structured discussion of each day’s readings. Although we’ve co-taught most course meetings, I was particularly responsible for inputs on the topics of the archaeology of Troy; the Persian Wars and their description in Herodotus; the Peloponnesian War and how Thucydides wrote about it; ancient Greek theatre and tragedy; Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics; and the Aeneid and its importance for Augustan Rome. In order to add some variety to the course, we’ve also had the students stage brief scenes from Sophocles’ Antigone.

Textbook & Readings

Together with the students we’ve read a collection of ancient sources in translation (extracts from: Hesiod, Theogony, Work and Days; Homer, Iliad, Odyssey; Herodotus, Histories; Thucydides, Peloponnesian War; Sophocles, Antigone; Aristophanes, Lysistrata; Plato, Phaedrus; Aristotle, Politics, Nicomachean Ethics; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; Catullus, Poems; Virgil, Aeneid, Eclogues; Tacitus, Annals; and Augustine, Confessiones; collected in Knox, Bernard (ed.) 1993. The Norton Book of Classical Literature. New York NY: Norton).

Students’ Assignments

Apart from the weekly readings and submitting three questions of interpretation for each session, the students also had to write a closed book midterm test in which they had to identify and analyse three out of four selected passages from the syllabus; write a brief critical analysis of an assigned passage; and write an open book, take-home final exam in which they had to compare two prescribed extracts in relation to a given topic. I graded all of these, highlighting both errors and particularly convincing thoughts, and providing each student with a brief written feedback and a rationale for their grade.


Apart from the syllabus, we also provided the students with a brief rubric for the textual analysis they had to write.

Feedback & Evaluation

The students were quite happy with the way I taught the class. In the final evaluation, about 80% of all students said that they’ve learned a lot or a great deal from me, that my instruction was very to extremely effective, and that I helped them to develop critical thinking skills a great deal or a lot. They particularly liked my historical expertise, the constructive feedback I gave on their assignments (although some students wished it had been more extensive), and my skills in leading a discussion.


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