WEEK II: July 14–18
Morning: 10 a.m. to noon
Milton’s Paradise Lost is the great English-language epic which rivals Homer in Greek, Virgil in Latin, and Dante in Italian. This cosmic epic is an acute psychological study of human nature and a deep theological inquiry into the nature of good and evil. It also is magnificent poetry. More than simply a revisioning of the events in Genesis, it is the story of the tension between divine love and human love, of faith and passion, of temptation, fall, and redemption. Through the characters of Adam, Eve, Satan, and God himself, Milton creates a poetic universe that weaves together vivid poetry with narrative suspense and profound philosophic inquiry.
In hopes of winning a wider audience, Schopenhauer published two short works on morality in a single volume: his prize essay on freedom of the will and an essay on the ethics of compassion. The book was a spectacular success and remains today the best introduction to his teachings. The two moral treatises are not merely accessible. They show Schopenhauer to be a brilliant critic of the Kantian doctrine, a supreme craftsman of the philosophical essay, and a true visionary, one of the first writers to recognize the convergence between Eastern and Western thought. As for his famously dark worldview, readers will not find a more charming presentation of pessimism, certainly none so likely to leave them in a positive and cheerful mood. How does he do it? We will explore the paradoxes of pessimism through careful reading and discussion of these masterpieces of philosophical prose.
Montesquieu’s The Persian Letters is a ‘kind of novel’ in the form of correspondence between two Persian travelers to France, Usbek and Rica. To seek knowledge of the West they have left behind a seraglio populated by Usbek’s many wives and their guards. The letters describe the vanity and posturing that characterizes French society; they offer serious reflections upon the benefits of the way of life the Persians have left behind. The book culminates in a feminist revolution in the seraglio. Montesquieu elsewhere acknowledges that in this book he has mixed philosophy, politics, and ethics into a whole bound together by “a secret chain.” In the attempt to reveal the chain that binds the letters, we will also read a portion of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, a book that had great influence upon the founders of the American republic.
The story of the lovers Romeo and Juliet has become, in English literature, the version of young love in its most passionate and iconic form. Yet also, according to the play, “there never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” These young lovers belong to families whose hatred for each other is old and enduring, which leads to murderous civil disorder and finally to the tragic death of both lovers. What is the connection between this love and the woe which surrounds it? Is the connection an accidental or necessary one? In addition to reading this sometimes beautiful and sometimes disturbing play, we will also read some of Shakespeare’s classic sonnets on love.
One of the greatest works to emerge from the ancient world, Plutarch’s Lives is difficult to categorize. A combination of biography, political science, history, and philosophy, his descriptions of the leading figures of ancient Greece and Rome, whose lives he presents in parallel, have formed the basis of many subsequent works of fiction and nonfiction. Most powerful is his penetrating insight into character and its impact on the lives and destinies of human beings and the societies and histories they shape. Plutarch shows, perhaps better than any other author, ancient or modern, that the deepest insights into political and moral leadership stem from a deep understanding of human virtue and vice.
Like Socrates and Jesus, the Buddha left nothing in writing. Our most proximate access to his teachings is via the texts of the Pali Canon, a collection of orally transmitted scriptures in the Pali language first written down in the first-century BCE, about 450 years after the Buddha’s death. In this seminar we will read and grapple with a selection of central texts (Sutras) from the Pali Canon. Our aim will be to gain insight into the life and teachings of the Buddha.
Afternoon: 2 – 4 p.m.
Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, writes with subtlety and beauty about life’s ordinary dilemmas: coming of age and coming to terms with family, work, friendship, and love in small towns and big cities. In this seminar, we will read five of Munro’s short stories and discuss what they reveal about the passage of time, memory, and what is universal about the experience of being human.
Lord Jim is the story of a young British sailor with heroic aspirations, who fails utterly the first real test of his courage, and then spends the rest of his short life trying to redeem himself. Whether he does, and what we are to think of the life—and death—he fashions for himself in the jungles of Malaysia, are questions that the novel itself invites us to ask. For Lord Jim is equally the story of Marlow, an older sailor—and also the narrator in Conrad’s great short story, The Heart of Darkness, who is deeply moved by Jim’s story, arranges for his post-disaster employments, and tells his tale before a variety of audiences, all the while reflecting on the meaning of Jim’s life and death.
On the History of Science
The Origins of Field Theory: Ørsted , Faraday and Maxwell
Two sessions daily
Morning and Afternoon
10 a.m. – noon and 2 - 4 p.m.
Peter Pesic and Guillermo Bleichmar
For over 75 years, St. John’s College has pioneered the study of the history of science and mathematics through discussion and experiment. This educational experience is now available to Summer Classics participants in a new weeklong format.
From July 14 – 18 there will be two sessions each day, morning and afternoon, involving seminar discussions of texts alongside demonstrations and experiments.
“The Origins of Field Theory” will trace the development of the concept of field emerging as a new way of thinking about electricity and magnetism. The center of this work will be Michael Faraday, flanked by shorter readings from Hans Christian Ørsted and James Clerk Maxwell to show something of what Faraday drew upon and what became of his radical new idea. Because Faraday himself was not formally educated in mathematics, the treatment will focus on physical experience, hands-on contact with the phenomena, and close reading of his accounts. This seminar is intended to be accessible to a wide audience. The only prerequisite is a lively curiosity about science and philosophy, combined with a readiness to listen and discuss with the other participants.
Special Session Tuition: $1,900/week. $800 for full-time educators with proof of employment.