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Seminars meet from 10 a.m. to noon, and 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday; and 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday. Lunch on Saturday is included.
All seminars are held in the Hodson Room in Mellon Hall.
Register for Weekend Classics
Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws
Montesquieu is one of the less familiar influences today on the constitutional founding of the United States, but he was well known at the time, and influenced Madison especially. He is known particularly as a source of the doctrine of separation of powers. He is not the sole or earliest source of that doctrine, but his arguments for it in The Spirit of the Laws are distinctive and concise. We will read the introductory chapters on law and the principles of government, followed by those on the separation of powers, and Madison’s argument in The Federalist.
Suggested text, translation or edition: The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu, translated by Cohler, Miller, and Stone. Cambridge University Press
This seminar is full
Perhaps America’s greatest living poet, Mary Oliver combines the intensity of Edna St. Vincent Millay and the transcendental vision of Thoreau to observe and report on the natural world and its epiphanic surprises. A careful reporter, Oliver has the power of Frost to register deep thinking and wonder in ordinary speech. We will read a baker’s dozen of her compelling poems.
Recommended text: Devotions: Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
“How I Go to the Woods”
”White Heron Rising Over Blackwater”
“I Own a House”
“At Black River”
“The Buddha’s Last Instruction”
“When Death Comes”
“The Hermit Crab”
“Doesn’t Every Poet Write a Poem About Unrequited Love?”
“Five A. M. in the Pinewoods”
Montaigne's attempt to explore an elusive and inconstant “inward self” and to portray that self truthfully, “without strain or artifice,” gives rise to a new genre—the essay—and perhaps also to a new concept of truthfulness: “the lines of my painting do not go astray, though they change and vary.” Montaigne’s wide-ranging inquiries examine our bodily as well as our intellectual lives. An acute observer of both the world-stage and his own personal life, Montaigne engages us with lively, witty, and honest reflections that speak directly to the reader.
Suggested text, translation or edition: Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, translated by Michael Screech (Penguin Books, 2003)
Machiavelli’s The Prince marks an epoch in the history of political science—the beginning of Realpolitik, the attitude that principles of politics should be drawn from real practice instead of intellectual theory.
Suggested edition: Any translation is acceptable.
The entire text should be read before Saturday morning.
The play puts tragic events offstage and reserves its stage for repentance and forgiveness. Prospero, having been supplanted years ago by his brother as Duke of Milan, was banished with his small child, Miranda; he claims, “By Providence divine,” to have been brought to their island home. There he has perfected his magic arts and raises the “tempest” to shipwreck the relevant “actors” from Milan and Naples on the island (but only with the help of ethereal Ariel). This island thus becomes the backdrop for the reunion—in a comic circle—of all with all, even Prospero’s “enemies” and the earthly Caliban.
Suggested text: Any
Plato’s Symposium is a tour de force treatment of the nature of love. At a celebratory party for a prominent playwright, Socrates and the other guests decide, instead of just drinking to excess, to give a series of speeches about love, each succeeding speaker trying to outdo the previous one. The whole series of speeches presents a remarkable number of different opinions about the role of love in human life.
Suggested text: Any translation is acceptable.
The entire text should be read before the Saturday morning session.
Mozart’s opera is a riot of love, lust, intrigue, murder, hilarity, defiance, revenge, and punishment. We will discuss and analyze these themes and the music of Mozart’s vocal score. This opera is on the St. John’s curriculum. No musical experience or expertise is needed; the Don prefers the uninitiated.
What is the purpose of marriage? This question has been hotly debated of late, as the legal and cultural norms around marriage shift. In this weekend seminar, we shall consider a medieval debate on marriage between characters from one of the great works of literature, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. We shall discuss three of these tales, including that of a fiercely intelligent and opinionated woman who had been married five times, the Wife of Bath.
Suggested text, translation or edition: An English translation with line numbers, such as The Modern Library Edition, translated by Burton Raffel.
A full refund is provided should you cancel at least two weeks before the first seminar meets. No refunds are provided if you cancel less than two weeks before the seminar meets.
Should we need to cancel due to weather, you will be notified by e-mail and the seminar will be rescheduled.
We reserve the right to cancel a seminar due to low enrollment.
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