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Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice

Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice has concluded. This site will remain accessible for those of you who have come upon the series after its conclusion. Units One, Two, Three and Four have been archived. On those pages you'll find reading assignments, lecture notes, and discussion questions. Thanks to all of you who participated in our dialogue!

Welcome to "Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice", an online lecture and discussion series organized and led by Professor Gregory Nagy, the current Chair of the Department of Classics at Harvard University. He is actively assisted by Teaching Fellows who have taught with him the undergraduate Core Curriculum course "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization." The Berkman Center's "Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice" is a seven-week exploration of the Homeric Odyssey, with a particular emphasis on the heroic search for the goal of social justice. In the poetic imagination, this goal is pictured through the metaphor of a beautifully cultivated garden. Homeric poetry links this paradisiacal metaphor with the hero's efforts to win back his or her own "soul" (psyche). The Odyssey itself is such a heroic journey of a soul.

In ancient Greek song culture, as exemplified by the Odyssey, the goal of such a heroic quest is imagined as a garden fertilized and even animated by the hero whose body is ultimately buried within its hallowed ground. This image is directly linked to the historical fact that heroes were not only the subject of song in the ancient Greek world but also objects of religious cult.

The cult heroes of the ancient Greeks were believed to be upholders of social justice precisely because their bodies were buried in the local earth of the communities that worshipped them as the direct source of fertility and prosperity. The image of the paradisiacal garden is the eventual outcome in stories of a hero's immortalization in song. The Odyssey is such a story, and Odysseus is such a hero.

Enrollment is without charge and open to any interested applicant, though the enrollment will be limited to the first 1200 who register. The series will feature reading of the Homeric Odyssey (in the beautiful English translation of Samuel Butler), lectures and discussion by the professor and teaching fellows [through RealVideo], other video materials and dialogues, on-line 'chat', and message boards.Previous experience with ancient Greek Literature is emphatically not required, and new-comers to Homer are heartily encouraged to sign up! There are no prerequisites for this course, and all materials are available in English over the internet. To repeat, knowledge of Greek is not required.

Readings for the first unit may be found here.

Questions can be e-mailed to the series' Head Teaching Fellows, Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott.