Spend a Saturday reading and discussing timeless works of literature, poetry, history, and philosophy. Sponsored by the Friends of St. John’s College, Great Books Saturday is a one-day program that features morning and afternoon seminars on classic works drawn from the St. John’s College curriculum or a reading chosen for the author’s thoughts and ideas which have universal relevance. Led by St. John’s faculty members, Great Book Saturday offers community members the opportunity to experience the St. John’s educational program. All ages are welcome. No degrees are required, only an interest in thoughtful reading and discussion. For more information, contact Alice Chambers at or 410-295-5544.
Coffee and Registration: 9 a.m.-10 a.m. Francis Scott Key Lobby, Mellon Hall
About a St. John’s Seminar: 9:30 a.m. Conversation Room, with tutor David Townsend
10 a.m.-Noon (Classrooms will be assigned at registration.)
1. Yeats, Four Poems
Tutor: David Townsend
“Lapis Lazuli,” “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” and “The Second Coming.”
A poet of terrible beauty, a master craftsman, and a tireless visionary, Yeats was—as T. S. Eliot said—“the greatest poet of our time.” We will read carefully four of his striking, visionary poems.
2. Euripides, Alcestis
Tutor: Marilyn Higuera
Alcestis is the wife of Admetus, whom Apollo has granted freedom from death—provided he can find a substitute to die in his place. Admetus has asked each of his loved ones to take his place on the day he is doomed to die. Only Alcestis is willing. Euripides’ play depicts her self-sacrifice, her subsequent rescue by Admetus’ friend Hercules, and the effect of these events on Admetus himself.
3. Papal Encyclical, “Laudato Si”
Tutor: Brendan Boyle
The seminar will attempt to identify what, if any, philosophical claims–about the natural world, the human person, religious authority, and political life–ground the encyclical’s call for “care for our common home.” Questions of climate science, and the politics of climate science, will be strenuously avoided.
4. Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”
Tutor: Ron Haflidson
Two years after his masterpiece, Moby Dick, Herman Melville published his short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” At first, Bartleby’s boss is pleased with what a devoted and able worker Bartleby is. Then, everything changes when Bartleby begins to respond to every request with, “I would prefer not to.”
5. Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog
Tutor: Joan Silver
Konrad Lorenz received the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1973 for his work as one of the founders of ethology, the study of animals in their own environment. In this engaging book, Lorenz indulges his lifelong attachment to dogs. We will discuss sections of the book in which he speculates on the origin of the human-dog link and explores variations on the theme of the love between us and our loyal companions: author’s introduction, chapters 1-3.
6. Galileo, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina
Tutor: Karin Ekholm
This letter is Galileo’s most thorough discussion of the relationship between science and religion. He draws on St. Augustine’s writings to explain how to interpret Scripture when it seems to contradict scientific observations. In particular, he considers how to distinguish when Biblical passages are to be understood literally or metaphorically. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the letter which was published two decades later.
12-1:30 p.m. Optional lunch available for advance purchase.
(Participants taking only the afternoon seminars may register at 1 p.m. in the FSK Lobby.)
1. Shakespeare, Four Sonnets
Tutor: David Townsend
Sonnets 12, 33, 73, and 97: “When I do count the clock that tells the time,” “Full many a glorious morning have I seen,” “That time of year thou mayst in me behold,” and “How like a winter hath my absence been.”
William Shakespeare thinks about the changing seasons and passing time in gorgeous images, memorable language, and a great depth of feeling. His mastery of the sonnet form lifts the formal structure to soar over the landscape of our unacknowledged feelings and reflections.
2. Plato, Euthyphro
Tutor: William Pastille
On the way to his trial, Socrates meets Euthyphro, a priest, who happens to be going to court to prosecute his own father for impiety. Since Socrates is being tried in part for impiety, he hopes to get some insight from Euthyphro that will help him. But the self-styled piety expert turns out to be no match for Socrates.
3. Ibn Tufayl, “Hayy ibn Yaqzan” (“Alive son of Awake”)
Tutor: Joe Macfarland
Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale, trans. Lenn E. Goodman, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Ibn Tufayl, a Muslim philosopher from 12th century Andalusia, wrote this fable about a human who is born and lives alone on an island and who consequently views the natural world free from social conventions, before he finally encounters human society. Blending natural philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism, and political theory, the story explores the relation between reason and revelation.
4. W.H. Auden, Three Poems
Tutor: Zena Hitz
“As I Walked Out One Evening,” “Musee des Beaux Arts,” and “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.”
In these three poems, written between 1937 and 1939, Auden confronts the inevitable bitterness, banality and tedium of ordinary modern life. His response is not despair or hopelessness but blessing and praise; everyday suffering is transformed by poetry and art. We will ask what this transformation is and how it takes place.
5. Flannery O’Connor, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”
Tutor: Louis Petrich
Flannery O’Connor is among the very greatest writers of the American short story. Participants in this seminar will recognize in her writing the perfection of literary texture and detail. But beyond that, there is awe to be felt at her unflinching vision of the human soul in its contortions over life and death.
$120 - Includes one morning seminar, one afternoon seminar, and lunch
$100 - Two Seminars (one morning and one afternoon)
$50 - One Seminar (either morning or afternoon)
$20 - Optional lunch (Participants may bring their own lunch.)