Dr. Thomson/Lit (Freshmen)

1st Quarter

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. Translated by Martin Hammond. Penguin Books, 2006

The Meditations of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is a unique work in all of world literature. Here we encounter the musings of a soldier-emperor, written while he was on campaign in the northern provinces, over the last twelve years of his reign. He wrote here to himself alone, not contemplating a present or future audience. Aurelius, steeped in the Stoic tradition and quite comfortable in the Koine Greek of the common man, addressed the “big questions”: life, the cosmos, justice, kindness. It is a work of timeless value: our current Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, always carries a copy with him.  Key terms: Marcus Aurelius, Stocicism, Meditations (Chinese)

Work accomplished in class: I showed them from my own library 4 different sorts of reference works which historians of classical antiquity depend on to understand the Romans and the Greeks who were so important to the Founders of the United States, and to such subjects we still study as philosophy, geography, literature, the sciences….

a) Read the complete text of the Meditations of the Roman Emperor (161-180 A.D.), Marcus Aurelius (i. e., about 120 pages). Identify a single passage in that work which made an unusual impression upon them.
b)
discussion of the Meditations specifically. You must turn in an essay of 300-400 words on the following topic: “Identify three sayings by book/paragraph in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations which you have found to be particularly appealing. Why? Be specific!”

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Dover Thrift Editions, 1995
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) flashed across the American literary landscape like a bolt of lightning. None of the white Abolitionists of the day could have matched the searing, first-person authenticity of Douglass’ years in wretched bondage, or his incandescent excoriation of slavery, in language redolent of the Old Testament prophets. He set the stage for the third act in that national tragedy, when Martin Luther King Jr. assailed segregation.
a)
“Find three specific examples of how Douglass’ attitude toward slavery developed over his early years in bondage.” (I will give out individual topic assignments for Week 4 at the end of this class.)
b) Individual presentations on Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Elie Wiesel, Night. Translated by Marion Wiesel. Hill and Wang, 2006.

Nobel Peace Prize awardee Elie Wiesel’s Night is likewise an autobiographical account of his internment in two of Hitler’s death camps, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Many high schoolers in the US are familiar with The Diary of Anne Frank; Wiesel’s work adds depth to our understanding of the word “Holocaust”.
a) “Identify three passages in Night which clearly demonstrate Wiesel’s ability to acknowledge his own shortcomings. Analyze and discuss.” (I will give out individual assignments for Week 6 at the end of this class.)
b) (Wiesel, continued): Individual presentations on 2 or 3 of the following topics: Oskar Schindler, the Wannsee Conference, The Protocols of of the Elders of Zion, and Armenian Genocide Denial.

2nd Quarter

  1. 1. From Plato Six Pack: “Apology,” pp. 18-38. All students MUST read this piece BEFORE CLASS, and prepare an essay of 300-400 words on the following topic: “Identify in Plato’s text three arguments which Socrates advances to defend himself against Meletos. Which one do you find most persuasive, and why?” -- NOTE: This work purports to present the full language of Socrates’ self-defense before a jury of ~500 fellow-Athenians in 399 BC. He was accused of blasphemy and of corrupting the youth of Athens. This trial was one of the most famous in history.
  2. 2. From Plato Six Pack: “The Allegory of the Cave,” pp. 113-139. – NOTE: This piece (actually Book VII of Plato’s The Republic) has provided a very durable image for centuries of philosophic thought on the nature of reality.
  3. 3. From Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. viii-xx and 3-150. Essay topic will be assigned in previous class. – NOTE: The Oxford don Clive Staples Lewis, also widely remembered as the author of the children’s classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is regarded as the greatest defender of Christianity in the 20th Century.
  4. 4. From Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 151-227. Specific discussion topics to be assigned.
  5. 5. Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, entire volume. Essay topic will be assigned in the previous class. – NOTE: This work, initially published in 1962 in the literary journal Novy Mir as a result of Khrushchev’s “Thaw”, laid bare before the Soviet peoples and the world the harsh realities of the GULag. Solzhenitsyn would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.
  6. 6. Further discussion of the above piece; individual assignments. Last class of the second quarter.

3rd Quarter

Aristotle, Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts. Dover Thrift Edition, 2004.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric introduced the terms “ethos,” “pathos” and “logos”, which high school students are still required to understand today. Aristotle was called in the Middle Ages the “Master of Those Who Know;” he is still accepted as one of the two greatest philosophers of all time; his own teacher was the other, Plato, from whom we read two writings in the second quarter.
a)
“If you were asked to construct a fictitious (but plausible!) scenario featuring Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, how would you do that? What would they conceivably discuss?”

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man (unknown trans.) CreateSpace pub.

Pico’s Oration has often been called “the manifesto of the Renaissance,” and is the first text these students have encountered from that massively important era in Western cultural history.
a)
“Speculate intelligently as to why Pico’s Oration has often been described as the ‘Manifesto of the Renaissance.’ Be sure to identify three quotations from the Oration which support your opinion.”
b) (Pico, continued): "Compose your own essay prompt on the Oration, and answer it in a concise essay.”

Thomas Paine, Common Sense. Dover Thrift Edition, 1997.
Paine’s Common Sense is widely regarded as a major trigger of the American Revolution and provides our first glimpse of America as the embodiment of several Enlightenment emphases, such as freedom and the rule of law.
a)
“Identify three passages in Night which clearly demonstrate Wiesel’s ability to acknowledge his own shortcomings. Analyze and discuss.” (I will give out individual assignments for Week 6 at the end of this class.)
b) (Wiesel, continued): Individual presentations on 2 or 3 of the following topics: Oskar Schindler, the Wannsee Conference, The Protocols of of the Elders of Zion, and Armenian Genocide Denial.

4th Quarter

Stoic Paradoxes: A New Translation by Quintus Curtius
Toward the end of his consequential public life, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) prepared this concise study of what he saw as the six leading tenets of the Stoic school of philosophy (this edition also includes the important excerpt from his On the Commonwealth, “Scipio’s Dream”, which we will also examine). Cicero is regarded as the greatest of Roman orators, a stout defender of the virtues of the Roman Republic He famously translated many of the most significant works of Greek thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle into Latin, thereby becoming the very epitome of the term “Greco-Roman Civilization.”

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 2nd edition, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield. (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
Machiavelli’s manual of statecraft for a prince urges the imitation of Cesare Borgia, who never hesitated to ignore the moral code to keep himself in power. Even in the late twentieth century, M. S. Gorbachev had it translated into Russian for himself. Machiavelli was a diplomat, practicing an art actually developed by earlier Florentines and Venetians; this political craft is of course still essential in the international arena.

Winston S. Churchill, ed., Never Give In! The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches. (New York: Hachette Books, 2015)
Without the magnificent leadership of Churchill, England would have surely surrendered to Hitler’s Third Reich; much of Europe already had by the time King George VI made him Prime Minister. It is not an exaggeration to declare that more than any other individual, he deserves credit for saving Western Civilization. His grandson here arrays many of his greatest speeches, which still inspire and evoke the greatness of England and America; he was the only person ever to be granted honorary US citizenship by an act of Congress.

5th Quarter

  1. John Locke, The Second Treatise on Government & A Letter Concerning Toleration. (Dover Thrift Editions, 2002; both pieces orig. pub. 1689.) John Locke exerted an immense influence on the American Founders, especially Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence incorporates several of his ideas.
    a)
    “In his Second Treatise, Locke advanced several of the principles that later appeared in America's founding documents. Identify and discuss three of these (chapter references, please), together with appropriate quotations from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.”
    b) (Locke, continued): “In his Letter concerning Toleration, Locke establishes firm boundaries between the church and the ‘magistrate’. Discuss, with specific references to three paragraphs in the text.”
  2. Robert Fagles, trans.: Sophocles: The Three Theban Plays. (New York: Penguin, 1984) We will be studying Sophocles’ classic tragedy Antigone in this text. The Greeks of the 5th century BC wrote the first plays in the history of the Western tradition. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes established the conventions, the themes, and the style of this grand art; all subsequent dramatists, from the Romans down to Bertold Brecht, Eugene O’Neill and Andrew Lloyd Weber owe the very existence of their craft to those three ancients.
  3. Franz Kafka, The Trial. (Schocken Books, 1999; orig. Ger. MS 1914; pub. Posthumously 1925) A German committee recently judged this book as the second-most influential German novel of the 20th century. It is a foundational text of existentialist thought.