The Western Canon: From Homer to Milton (Free Course)

Taught by William Flesch at Brandeis University, this course offers a survey of some of the greatest and most influential works on Western literature, philosophy and culture, from Homer through Milton.  Part of the through line is that every writer covered in the course wrote in a context inherited from the earlier ones, so we look at affiliations between them all. The course used the Lattimore translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the Hollander translations of Dante.  For the other works, any translation or edition is fine.

1. Introductory lecture on the legendary and the real Homer as treated by Dante and Milton: Audio

2. Homeric simile in The Iliad: Audio

3. Iliad, mainly Book 6: Audio

4. Iliad: Hektor frightens Astyanax; Achilleus plays the lyre: Audio

5. Iliad: Achilleus, Patroklos, Hektor, Priam, and the laws of hospitality: Audio

6. The Odyssey: Funeral games and gift-giving  (a bit truncated due to glitch): Audio

7. Odyssey: Gifr-giving and hospitality: Audio

8. Odyssey: The Use of oral formulae: Audio

9. Odyssey: Why Odysseus is “no man”: Audio

10. Odyssey: Conclusion, including reunion and two greatest similes in the poem: Audio

11. Plato, Socrates, Zeno, Forms: Audio

12. Plato: The Cave and the argument against poetry: Audio

13. Aristophanes’s Clouds: his Socrates vs. Plato’s: Audio

14. Ovid: and his influence on Milton: Audio

15. Ovid and Virgil and their relation to Homer: Audio

16. Virgil’s sublimity: Audio

17. Virgil’s Homeric recapitulations. Doctor Johnson’s strictures: Audio

18. Dante: Introduction. Terza Rima. Dante’s Virgil. Topography of Hell: Audio

19. Dante: Inferno. Love, justice, desire: Audio

20. Dante: Inferno and Purgatorio: topographic ordering of sins in both, from least bad to worst: Audio

21. Dante: Purgatorio.  Contrapasso and allopathic punishment in Purgatory vs. homeopathic punishment in hell: Audio

22.  Dante: Purgatorio and Paradiso: Love and gravity; the idea of theodicy: Audio

23: Dante: Paradiso, the Universe, and everything: Audio

24. Milton: Paradiso and Paradise Lost: Audio

25. Milton: Paradise Lost and its antecedents in our reading: Audio

26. Milton: Freedom of conscience and guilt in Paradise Lost: Audio

27. Milton: Paradise Lost and conclusion of the course: parallels between all worlds; angelic sex; love and Adam’s self-sacrifice for Eve and hers for him: Audio


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