Western Literature to Dante

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2019-20: Mondays, 1:00 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time


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Course Overview

Notre Dame de Paris. View of the city from the tower.

This course is designed to expose students to a broad range of readings and topics they would probably not otherwise encounter in high school, but which forms the foundation of Western culture. As such it contains a curious mixture of the familiar and the strange. All the original works we read in this course (i.e., except for critical works) antedate modern English, and so we have to read them in translation. But they also antedate many modern sensibilities, and contain ideas or presuppositions that cannot be translated, but which need to be understood on their own terms. Some of these will be comfortably familiar; while others will challenge a student to stretch his or her imagination in ways that may well be difficult. It is a hard course, involving a lot of work, but I trust most students will find it rewarding, at least in retrospect.

I have not found a single anthology or textbook that offers enough of these works to justify buying it; accordingly I have had to assemble our reading-list from a variety of sources, while avoiding a ruinous book bill. I have asked you to purchase a few great classic works that will be read entirely or almost entirely; other materials will be presented via the Web. Of these, some will be found at other sites devoted to classical and mediaeval literature; some will be local — translations done by friends and family, or typed in from older translations now lapsed into the public domain; a few I have done myself. Where there is a good published alternative available for one of the Web-based readings, I have attempted to indicate this among the optional citations on the textbook page. You may buy any or all of these; you need not buy any. Whether you buy all the extra books or not, however, you will need to be on your toes, and be comfortable using a Web browser. For some of the items there are no options.

I have tried to follow a few structural principles in assembling the course:

The course has a very large reading list, and I have attempted to explain my overall rationale somewhat in the discussion under “General Expectations” and more specifically in the discussion “About the Reading List” (see the links in the top panel).

I have, finally, prepared a small volume, available through our bookstore or on Amazon, Western Literature to Dante: A Parents’ Guide to help parents who would like more information about the course and its rationale to decide whether this course is suitable for their students, and to help parents who have already made the commitment to help their students get the best benefit from it.