Archaic Greek Poetry
Days and Time: 
M 2-4:59P
Griffith, Mark
Course Description: 

This seminar will focus on archaic Greek and Near Eastern "wisdom literature" -- however we choose to define that term. (We'll discuss that definition.)  On the Greek side, we will read Hesiod's three main poems (Theogony, Works and days, Catalogue of Women), parts of Empedokles's poem(s) On Nature and Purification, one or two other preSocratics (e.g. Seven Sages, Anaximandros, Herakleitos); and on the Near Eastern side, we'll read <in English translation> some classic Babylonian (Akkadian), Egyptian, Hittite, Biblical Hebrew, Ugaritic and (maybe Indic and Iranian) texts that exhibit strong similarities or interesting contrasts, including several "creation myths", some fables, and various accounts of divine/human difference and the possible avenues through which humans might access the divine.

So, in terms of Archaic Greek (and Classical Latin) literature, we'll be looking at the origins of Western "didactic poetry" (a tradition that leads to Aratos, Lucretius, Vergils' Georgics, Manilius, etc. -- though we'll not be reading the actual texts of those later poets), while at the same time we'll be investigating the various forms in which "expertise, technical skill, knowledge, authority, wisdom" of one kind or another were disseminated in writing (or orally) and codified in early Greek and nearby cultures.  I expect that we'll look at some medical and magical texts too, and perhaps some astronomical and scientific ones.  

Recurring topics for debate will doubtless include the following: What kinds of "wisdom" are of cultural importance?  (Which technical skills deserve to count as "wisdom" and to be written down in instruction manuals and/or integrated into poems?)  How crucial, or not, is writing and the existence of a written repertoire of knowledge?  In what ways does technical skill overlap/translate into the realm of morality?  How do humans acquire (the most important kinds of) wisdom?  How different and distinctive are Greek forms of "wisdom literature", as compared with the other forms that we find exemplified among their neighbors?

The seminar will include several guest-visitors who have expert first-hand knowledge of the relevant languages and cultural traditions of the Near Eastern cultures that we'll be encountering.