Location: Bowdoin / Robert B. Sobak / Course Descriptions


Course Descriptions

Ancient Democracy and its Critics – CLA 019 (2012F)

Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” For some, ancient democracy was nothing more than mob rule, a place where the poor robbed the rich, slaves passed as free citizens, and even donkeys refused to give way to their human betters. This course, which has been designed as a first-year seminar, investigates the historical origins, principles, institutions, and practices of Athenian democracy, and considers also the political and philosophical critiques of democracy within their historical and intellectual contexts. Traditional critiques of democracy will be placed alongside recent scholarship by philosophers, neuroscientists, and sociologists, which offers new ways of thinking about social epistemology, the cognitive virtues of group decision-making, and the benefits of collective action.

History of Ancient Greece – CLA 211/HIS 201 (2008S, 2009F)

This class offers an introductory survey of the history of Greek-speaking peoples from the Bronze Age (c. 3000–1100 B.C.E.) to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. It traces the political, economic, social, religious, and cultural developments of the Greeks within the broader context of the Mediterranean world. Topics include the institution of the polis (city-state); hoplite warfare; Greek colonization; the origins of Greek “science,” philosophy, and rhetoric; and fifth-century Athenian democracy and imperialism. Because of the nature of our ancient sources, the course necessarily focuses on Athens and Sparta, but attention is also given to the variety of social and political structures found in different Greek communities. Special attention is given to examining and attempting to understand the distinctively Greek outlook in regard to gender, the relationship between human and divine, freedom, and the divisions between Greeks and barbarians (non-Greeks). A variety of sources—literary, epigraphical, archaeological—are presented, and students learn how to use them as historical documents.

Artisans, Artistry, and Manual Labor in Ancient Greece – CLA 222  (2007F)

This class offers a topical history of craft labor and industry in the ancient Greek world. It examines the various ways in which manual labor, skill, and artisanship are presented in selected literary and philosophical texts, and considers both ancient and comparative evidence for particular types of work, such as shipbuilding, weaving, pottery, metallurgy, and carpentry. Our comparative study of modern craft and artisanal practices includes field trips to the studios of local boat-builders, woodworkers, blacksmiths and ceramicists. In addition to experiential education, the course introduces students to modern scholarship on the cognition of making and doing: how our interactions with the material world entail and create rich intellectual experiences and help develop problem solving and critical analysis. The course provides a focused introduction to ancient Greek culture and history, and one of the main goals of the class is to develop a deeper appreciation for the knowledge, skill, and contributions of common, working people throughout history and in our own society.

Leisure, Class, and the Liberal Arts in Classical Athens – CLA 305 (2010S)

As a student at Bowdoin you have the time, the means, and the motivation to devote four years of your life to a non-vocational curriculum at a distinctively American institution: the “liberal arts” college. Just as the English words “school” and “scholar” derive from the Greek word for “leisure,” so too do many of our own ideas about what constitute a “liberal arts” education derive from a particular place and moment in time: ancient Greece. This class examines not only a wide variety of idealistic prescriptions for educational practice by writers such as Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle, but also the historical context within which such ideals were born. Over the course of the semester students confront, among other things, questions that impact our modern notions of what is entailed in “education,” such as curricular design, socio-economic status, political ideology, instructional objectivity, and intellectualism—issues that have as much importance today as they did 2,500 years ago.

History of Ancient Rome – CLA 212/HIS 202 (2008S, 2012F)

The goal of this course is to answer two big questions. First, how did a small, backward, and rather unimportant little village on the banks of a malarial stream called the Tiber become Mistress of the Mediterranean? How did Rome grow from a tiny town to a metropolis deserving of the title Capital of the World? What was it about the Roman character, society, and institutions that made this transformation possible? Second, how did achieving such a thing change the Romans themselves? How does the gaining of an empire and the maintenance of one’s position as the world’s foremost superpower re-shape the individuals and groups involved? What sort of problems did the Romans face, and what sort of solutions did they enact? Where did they succeed and where did they fail? In order to answer these questions this course surveys the history of Rome from its foundation in the eighth century B.C.E. all the way to the fifth century C.E. Using literary, archaeological, and epigraphical sources, students explore political, economic, religious, and cultural developments by focusing on topics like imperialism, ethnic assimilation, urbanism, and militarism.

City and Country in the Roman World – CLA 214/HIS 224 (2008F)

The American political landscape has been painted (by the pundits at least) in two contrasting colors: Blue and Red. These “states of mind” have become strongly associated with particular spatial differences as well: Urban and Rural, respectively. This course examines the various ways in which Roman culture dealt with a similar divide at different times in its history by concentrating on the manner in which “urban” and “rural” are represented in Roman literature and visual arts, and how and why these representations changed over time. Students study depictions of the city and the country in sources as varied as Roman painting, sculpture, and architecture, as well as Roman authors such as Varro, Vergil, Horace, Pliny and Juvenal. Additionally, we read modern authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, James Kunstler, David Harvey, William Cronon and Wendell Berry as modern analogues and as points of comparison. Finally, we focus our analyses on how attitudes towards class, status, gender and ethnicity, in both ancient Rome and modern America, have historically manifested themselves in location, movement, consumption, and production. Through synthesis and comparison this course challenges modern notions of urban/rural polarities by looking at similar phenomena within the context of Roman history.

First-Year Latin – First Semester – LAT 101 (2008S, 2009S)

This class is the first part of a year-long sequence designed to take students from their first, tentative steps in an unspoken, inflected language to experiencing the thrill of making their way through samples from authors such as Catullus and Cicero. We move through the introductory textbook at a rapid clip, and class sessions are used to introduce new material, review assigned material that students will have worked on the night before, and trouble-shoot particular issues for particular students on the spot. Every day brings a constant stream of new vocabulary and grammatical concepts to memorize, synthesize and employ. In addition to offering constant, ad-hoc feedback throughout each class, I make use of regular “pop” quizzes – I strongly believe in the efficacy of surprise in language acquisition, so students don’t know if there will be a quiz on any given day until they walk through door. Quizzes are designed to take about 10 minutes, and serve as formal, graded incentives for students to maintain a consistent pace throughout the semester. I give roughly one quiz each week, and this large number actually works to take pressure off of students, as each individual quiz is a low-stakes affair. This system also allows me to constantly check students’ written analyses against their participation in what is a rather free-wheeling class environment. Some students who struggle to articulate their knowledge orally often do quite well when given the opportunity to concentrate on a quiz. Conversely, students who respond well to rapid-fire exchanges in class can sometimes have difficulty with detailed and structured written questions. I balance these tools because I want to give each student an opportunity to best display his or her strengths and weaknesses in a system that provides constant feedback and encouragement.

First-Year Latin – Second Semester – LAT 102 (2008F)

This class is a continuation of first-semester Latin and as such adheres to the same structure and principles as its predecessor. Our aim in this second semester is to have gained the tools necessary to engage with the ideas of a selection of ancient authors, who we will read in the last month or so of the semester. So, for example, students will experience the playful language and wicked humor of the Roman poet Catullus not through the clouded medium of an English translation, but by reading the still-living and lively Latin in which he wrote. The complexities of Cicero’s political theory and philosophy are now able to be seen reflected in the syntactical structure of his Latin, instead of gestured at, third-hand, in the language of an American or English translator. The investment of time and effort that students have made during the year-long beginning Latin sequence pay off as Latin becomes not a system to be memorized but a language to enjoy.

Third Semester Latin: Livy's Rome  - LAT 203 (2013F)

This class is devoted to carefully translating and analyzing the first book of Livy's monumental Ab Urbe Condita. We will spend most of our time focused on mastering the basic syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of Latin prose in general, and of Livy in particular. We will devote time to learning how to recognize and appreciate examples of unusual word-order, dense and complicated sentence- and clause-structure, and poetic diction employed by Livy. Finally, we will place all of these lessons within the larger goal of better understanding Livy's historiographical aims and motivations, his usefulness as a primary source for early Roman history, and his position within the grand sweep of Roman intellectual history. Students will emerge from this course better able to read and enjoy Latin prose, and much more familiar with the social and political conditions under which one of Rome's great historians wrote.

Second-Year Latin – Second Semester: Vergil’s Aeneid – LAT 204 (2010S)

This class is devoted to carefully translating and analyzing at least one full book of Vergil’s great epic, The Aeneid. Class time is spent focusing on the intricacies of the poem’s language, and placing individual passages within the larger context of the poem; it’s mythic background, the political world in which Vergil wrote, and the literary and linguistic influence of Homer and other poets. Throughout the semester we read a wide variety of secondary classical scholarship, and compare different approaches to the text by translators such as Pope, Ruden, Ahl, Fagles, and Mandelbaum. Our goal is to have read the entirety of The Aeneid in English, read one full book, as well as selections from other books, in the Latin original, and begun to appreciate the wide range of approaches to the work, both in terms of scholarship and in terms of translation. Students leave this course with a deeper appreciation for The Aeneid, greater facility in Latin, and a better sense of what scholarship in Classics entails.

Second-Year Greek – First Semester: Plato’s Apology – GRK 203 (2007F, 2009F)

This course offers students their first opportunity for sustained reading in one particular ancient Greek author. Through an engagement with the prose artistry of Plato students gain access to one of the intellectual giants of human history: Socrates. This class devotes an entire semester to Plato’s Apology of Socrates, which provides students not only an opportunity to hone their skills in reading Greek, but to explore direct connections between the vocabulary and structure of the ancient Greek language and philosophical thought. Socrates himself, as he explains to us why and how he sought to define and grapple with the idea of wisdom, will serve as a guide to the linguistic and intellectual contexts that undergird much of our own ideas about political life and the education of citizens. Students will emerge from this course much more comfortable with tackling Greek prose, better equipped to deal with classical scholarship, and better informed of the social and intellectual roots of their own liberal arts education.

Advanced Greek – Second Semester – Herodotus’ Histories – GRK 303 (2013S)

This class focuses on the first book of Herodotus’ Histories, considering its position as a programmatic guide to the rest of the work. The first book introduces the major geographic regions addressed in the Histories and is divided into the two logoi of Croesus and Cyrus, who ruled in the 6th century BCE. Within these logoi are ethnographies and histories of various regions, short stories and parables containing clues to Herodotus’ philosophy of history, meditations on the nature of power, culture, and control, and methodological explorations on the cause of the difference between East and West. As part of our programmatic approach, we will focus especially on narratological and semantic implications of particular words, phrases, and ideas that point the reader both backwards and forwards in the text. For their final project students will collaborate in order to produce a full grammatical and historical commentary, aimed at intermediate- and advanced-intermediate students, on the first 92 chapters of Book 1.

Advanced Greek – Second Semester: Aristophanes’ Clouds – GRK 304 (2010S)

This course introduces students to a history of the Greek Enlightenment through Greek Comedy, particularly Aristophanes’ Clouds. We read the entirety of the play in Greek, and take time to explore other texts and ideas in order to see how Aristophanes portrays Socrates, the Sophistic Movement, intellectuals in general, and ancient pedagogical theory. Besides reading Aristophanes, students also translate and analyze fragments of Gorgias, Protagoras, Antiphon, Prodicus, Euripides, Plato, Thucydides, and Xenophon, in order to better understand Aristophanes’ representation of philosophical culture in Democratic Athens. Students design a substantial research paper, which builds on the secondary materials they have been introduced to throughout the semester, and which entails a close reading and exegesis of one section of Aristophanes’ Clouds and at least two of the other ancient authors with which they have wrestled. Students finish the course comfortable with sight-reading large amounts of Greek text, presenting classical scholarship to their peers, and able to construct and complete a detailed and thoughtful research project.