Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Reading

Ah, summer. I feel like it's almost over already...which it isn't...but there's so much to do and so little that I've DONE....

For the last few days, I've been reading like crazy (by which I mean, about 3 hours a day--but sometimes 4! I swear!) for this one class I have to teach in the fall. Now I'm a medievalist, as you know, and I've been hired pretty much as a generalist (I'm the new "British Literature" person at VerySLAC). But this one course doesn't even fit into BritLit. Now I figure I can describe it, because it's a pretty common course--it covers things like, oh, Virgil and Homer and Dante. Dante, yes, he's medieval (if not British). But Homer? Virgil? Oh, and Ovid? Sophocles? Those guys? Not so much.

And this is SO not my field. I had to read The Odyssey in the ninth grade, and I've read Oedipus Rex and Antigone at various points in my education, but that's it. So this month I read The Aeneid, and I'm currently working my way through The Iliad.

While I'm finding this material a little on the overwhelming side, I'm actually glad that I'm going to be teaching it. This is the kind of stuff that I have long felt I ought to read and know well, but that I never had the incentive to read and know well. And having to teach something? It kinda forces you to be on at least speaking terms with a text, right? So this is all a very good thing for me.

On the other hand, I can't come up with a syllabus that doesn't have us reading just a ridiculous amount of stuff every week, and that's kind of scary. In the process of reading the first 14 books of The Iliad, however, I've become convinced that certain sections of the text can be, er, skimmed. I'm not skimming now, because I need to ascertain what does and does not require one's full attention, but I might use the skimming policy as a means of packing the whole poem into like 2 weeks. (You know, assign books 1-6 but tell them to just "skim" 2 and 5, or whatever.) It's just...well, there's an awful lot of battle scenes, you know? My apologies to any classicists out there, but I find that my mind sort of wanders when confronted with stanza after stanza of "X hurled his spear at Y, son of Z, riveting his bosom through the nipple, and the blood poured out, red Trojan blood to water the battlefield. And M slew H, son of K, tearing neatly through both his nipples, and F saw this, and wept, crying out...." Etc.

(Okay I made that example up, obviously, but have you noticed how many references there are to (male) nipples in this book? At least, in Fagles' translation? It's kind of weird. And yes, that's pretty much all I'm getting out of the battle scenes: Nipples!)

9 comments:

Tiruncula said...

You're definitely allowed to skip bits :)

I've taught a course very much like that. Email me if you want to discuss specifics.

Sisyphus said...

Gee, why would you read the Illiad when you can show them the Brad Pitt movie _Troy_?

Heh heh.

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jb said...

Thanks, T--I may certainly take you up on your offer. And Sisyphus--I'm enjoying learning just how preposterous "Troy" really was.

Uh, Addison? I assume that you are not a real person.

medieval woman said...

I think Addison is actually Sir Spamalot...

Fretful Porpentine said...

I remember reading the Iliad when I was nineteen. The two details that chiefly impressed me were a) an image of a little Greek kid playing on the beach, building sand castles and knocking them down (hey, wow, kids still do that!); and b) the revelation that Homer invented sarcasm ("Do you not hear how Hektor is stirring up all his people, how he is raging to set fire to our ships? He is not inviting you to come to a dance.")

Not that either of these things is necessarily what you'd want to focus on when you teach the thing, but I thought I'd mention it in case you wanted something to think about besides nipples.

Sisyphus said...

PS what's _wrong_ with a little focus on the nipples of handsome manly men? Not only did Homer invent sarcasm, but beefcake lit. was going strong back then too!

Personally I liked the gore best, back when I read it in high school. Each death is more over-the-top than the others.

Bardiac said...

A belated suggestion: give the students a short and quick printed summary of the parts you think they can skim over, so at least they have some clue what happened.

jb said...

Good idea, Bardiac--I might also include some line numbers for interesting passages (such as they are) (I just finished Book 23--Funeral Games for Patroclus--and I must say that it's a bit anticlimactic, coming as it does right after Hector's death).