Law & Literature: Self & Society -- Personal Honor & Social Order in Homer's Iliad



SLN #: 14620
Course Prefix: LAW-791
Course Section: 003
Credit Hours: 3
Instructor(s): Lynk

Course Description:
Art illuminates life. The Iliad of Homer is the greatest work of epic poetry in Western Literature. The beauty of its language, the force of its characterizations and its timeless insights into human behavior set it apart from other epic poems. In this seminar we will look closely at Homer’s themes in the Iliad in order to examine their relevance to modern life. The Iliad is about the consequences of choices made by various people who, while under great stress, are trying to resolve intense interpersonal disputes, while having imperfect knowledge of the future, and living in the imminent shadow of death. Thus, it is less a poem about war, per se, than it is a poem that uses war -- the most destructive of human endeavors – to illustrate how much is at risk when violence is used to resolve disputes. It also illustrates the tension between each individual’s desire for self-assertion and freedom of choice, and a society’s need for members of that group to work collectively for the good of the community. In fact, within The Iliad Homer illustrates different forms of dispute resolution within the Iliad, and posits his views on which forms are socially useful, and which ones are not.

The class will undertake a close reading of The Iliad, including an analysis its mythological context, as we discuss its current applicability. Some of the questions we will examine include the following: How should Agamemnon have responded when Achilles challenges his leadership in Book 1? Why does Homer show such disrespect for Ares, the god of war, in a poem that ostensibly is about war? Why is Helen, despite her philandering that causes the war, such a sympathetic character? What are the moral principles of Homer’s gods and what is their role in the poem? What does it mean when we say that Odysseus is the most “modern” of the poem’s protagonists? Why is Achilles a morally greater figure than Hector? Why is Hector a more sympathetic character than Achilles? How do Homer’s characters define "heroic?" How is this concept of heroism both consistent with and different from our own modern concepts of heroism? What is the social role of a Homeric hero? How are the Homeric heroes similar to and yet different from modern “epic” literary heroes, such as Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins?

No prior knowledge of the Iliad is required. Various supplemental reading materials will be provided, including an outline of The Iliad. The primary reading throughout the course will be The Iliad itself. We will use Richmond Lattimore’s translation (University of Chicago Press, 1951, paperback ed. 1961, 1992, 2003.). Lattimore’s translation is generally considered to be the finest available in modern English. See, Hugh Lloyd-Jones, “Welcome Homer!,” The New York Review of Books, pp.28-33 (Feb. 14, 1991). Class members may, however, use other versions in English if they choose, but a verse translation is required. Other popular modern English verse translations include the translations of Robert Bagels and Stanley Lombardo.

Additional Information:
Credit Hours: 3
Grading Option: Numeric Grade and ONE-Time Pass Option is Available, or Letter Grade Only
Written Assignment: Three papers will be assigned during the semester. For law students, each paper must be a minimum of 8 pages in length, exclusive of endnotes. For Barrett Honors college students, each paper must be at least 5 pages in length, exclusive of endnotes.
Graduation Writing Requirement: No
Flexible Writing Requirement: Yes
Skills Requirement: No
Limited Enrollment Number: Enrollment is limited to 16 students; of these, there will be a maximum of 8 law students and 8 Barrett Honors College students.
Final Exam Given: No
Paper or In-Class Presentation: See Above. Also, students will be assigned on a rotating basis to lead each class discussion.
Participation Points: Yes, based on class discussion. In-class participation counts for 25% of the grade.
Attendance Policy: Per Statement of Student Policies
Additional Attendance Policy: Attendance is expected. If you must miss a class, notify Professor Lynk the day before class.
Online Course Site: Blackboard