Syllabus & Reading Schedule

Office Hours on zoom: Tuesdays, 9-10 and noon-1:30; Thursdays, 9-10 and 3:15-4:30

The official blurb for this course says:

“This course explores ancient texts that articulate perennial issues, such as the nature of the human and the divine; virtue and the good life; the true, the just, and the beautiful; the difference between subjective opinion and objective knowledge. These texts exemplify basic modes of speech, literary forms, and patterns of thinking that establish the terminology of academic and intellectual discourse and critical thought across many different societies: epic, rhetoric, tragedy, poetry, epistemology, science, democracy, rationality, the soul, spirit, law, grace. Such terms have shaped the patterns of life, norms, and prejudices that human communities have continually challenged, criticized, and refashioned throughout history. To highlight both the dialogue and conflicts between the texts and the traditions they embody, this course, taught by a multidisciplinary staff and in an interdisciplinary manner, focuses on both the historical contexts of these texts and the ongoing retellings and reinterpretations of them through time. The course includes texts from the ancient Mediterranean world that have given rise to some of the philosophical, political, religious, and artistic traditions associated with “The West,” emphasizing that Western traditions were not formed in a vacuum but developed in dialogue and conflict with other traditions. Common to all sections of this component are classic works such as Homer, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, Plato, and a Roman text. Complementary texts or visual materials from the ancient period, in and beyond the Western world, and/or response texts from the medieval or contemporary periods are added by faculty in individual sections.”

In this section, however, we will be thinking about the course in slightly different ways. As you probably know, Legacies of the Ancient World is one part of Colgate’s four-part Core curriculum; the other parts are Challenges of Modernity, Scientific Perspectives, and Communities & Identities. What you may not know is that Colgate revises its Core curriculum every 10 years, and we just happen to be in the middle of one of those moments of revision. I am one of ten faculty members on the Core Revision Committee. We just released a proposal for a revised Core curriculum this past July; the faculty is currently reading, discussing, and debating this proposal. It will be revised at least one more time; eventually there will be a vote on it. If it passes this year, it will go into effect in Fall, 2022.

Our work this semester will consist both of reading the required Legacies of the Ancient World texts (as well as two additional texts, the Qur’an and a 13th century epic from Mali called the Epic of Sunjata), and of critically examing the course as a whole. Does the current Legacies course need to be revised? What are its strengths and shortcomings? We will also consider the proposed new course, Questions of Justice, which would replace both Legacies of the Ancient World and Challenges of Modernity. Does the theme of justice work? Does it inspire you? Does it address some of the criticisms that the current courses have received?

The faculty values student perspectives on the curriculum; the Core Revision Committee is eager to take those perspectives into account as we develop the revision proposal. For this reason, the work we do in this course this semester will be shared on a website that will be accessible to the whole Colgate community. This means you will be writing for a larger audience than just me, your professor, and that your work has a purpose beyond demonstrating to me you how hard you have been working and how much you have learned. It will also inform the Colgate community of your views about these texts, about the current and possible future Core curriculum, and about the purpose of a liberal arts education more broadly. Christine Moskell, Instructional Designer in IT, will help us with our WordPress site.


  • Homer, Odyssey (trans. by Emily Wilson) (Norton)
  • New Oxford Annotated Bible,  3rd rev, edition. College Edition, Oxford University Press (Michael Coogan, ed.,)
  • Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates (trans. G. M. A. Grube) (Hackett)
  • Livy, Stories of Rome (From the Founding of the City) (trans. and edited by Roger Nichols) (Cambridge)
  • The Qur’an (trans. by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem) (Oxford)
  • Sunjata (Bamba Suso and Banna Kanute) (Penguin)


This course will be conducted as a discussion on zoom. It is therefore imperative that you attend every session, and that you be fully prepared to engage in a thoughtful conversation with the class about the assigned reading. It is also essential that you pay close attention to, and take detailed notes on, our discussions; and that you review those notes regularly.

To encourage and reward this degree of regular, active engagement with the course material, there will be either a 5-minute (3 point) or a 10-minute (10 point), open-book, open-note, in-class mini-exam-essay on some aspect of the reading at the beginning of every class session. The 3-point essays will address only the reading from the night before; the 10-point essays will bring together the reading from the night before and one or more of our previous readings and discussions. These exam questions allow me to give you credit for staying on top of the reading. They enable us to hit the ground running when we begin our discussions, since you will have had a chance to collect your thoughts on the topic at hand. Finally, they will encourage you to regularly review the material from previous sessions and to see how our various texts speak to one another. At the end of the semester, I will drop your two lowest scores; the total of the remaining scores will constitute your course exam grade. No other midterm or final exam will be given. Please note that if missed (whether due to lateness or to absence), these daily exam questions cannot be made up. Also: you will not know in advance whether the day’s exam question will be worth 3 or 10 points.

In addition to this daily writing, you will also write two short (500-word) mini-essays commenting on resources related to the main themes of our course. The first mini-essay will be due during the first week in October, and will consider a web resource related to either the critique of “Western Civ” and/or “Great Books” courses in the U.S. in recent decades or the “afterlives” of one our texts. The second mini-essay, commenting on a resource related to either the critique of Core 151 at Colgate or the “Questions of Justice” proposal, will be due just before Thanksgiving break. You and I will have a “paper appointment” to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each paper, and you will have a chance to edit and revise them before they are posted to our website.

Your individual work in the course will culminate in a final project, whose design, format and topic is entirely up to you. Josh Finnell, Head of Research and Instruction at Case Library, will work with you to help you develop your ideas and think creatively about the possible formats and media.

Another portion of your grade is based on general “citizenship,” which includes active participation in class discussions, thoughtful listening, and basic respect for your fellow students and teacher.

You are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the University regulations concerning academic honesty, as spelled out in the Colgate University Academic Honor Code:

If you have any questions or doubts about the honor code, please ask me or another faculty member. Here is a very helpful essay on the topic of plagiarism, written by two Colgate professors. Please note that any instance of academic dishonesty will be immediately handed over to the office of the Associate Dean of the College.

Some zoom rules: please:

1) mute yourself when you aren’t speaking.

2) leave your video on, and feel free to choose an appropriate background image.

3) use the raise hand button.

4) sit up straight, ideally in a chair.

5) do not go to other websites, or engage in other activities, during classtime.

6) remember that what you say in the chat, even “privately,” gets saved as part of the meeting and is visible to the host.

Grade components

citizenship                 10%

exams total:              26%

web essay 1:            17%

web essay 2:            22%

final project:             25%