Why Visit the Dead? Trips to the Underworld in Classical Literature

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Course Notes

Day 1: Course introduction; Why start with Dante? What was the Classical concept of the Underworld? Examples from additional Classical works may be discussed.

Day 2: Homer's Underworld; why does Odysseus go there? what does he learn? what do we learn? Why is there a second short trip to visit the dead in Odyssey, Book 24 (the final book of that poem)?

Day 3: Plato, The Republic, "The Myth of Er. As he finishes his great work on how to construct an ideal society, one which reflects the best in its members and also creates members best suited to live there, Plato oddly leaves us in the Underworld with powerful lessons on the meaning of philosophy itself; ultimately, it seems, one must understand what a good life is in order to live one.

Day 4: Vergil's Aeneid, Book 6. This famous section of Vergil's great epic falls right at the centerfold of Aeneas's journey, and greatly expands on the visions of its Greek predecessors; it is this section of the Aeneid which inspired much of Dante's vision in Infernoand even some of the Purgatorio.Here, Aeneas learns many important lessons: most important, perhaps, that death is often the easy way out and that life is often hard.

Day 5: We end where we began, in Dante. Here we can range as widely as the class likes.We can see if we now understand why the real-life Dante chose to have his hero, a fictionalized version of himself, led through all of the lands of the dead by Vergil. We may explore some of the marvelous imagery of Inferno, the remarkable ways the punishments mirror the sins, the myriad ways human beings have of spoiling the gifts we are given; we will meet souls which Dante brings to life, and explore what lessons they have for all of us, regardless of age, time of life, or personal beliefs; Dante's dead call to our humanity, our morality, our sense of right and wrong; they leave us with chilling knowledge of what can happen when we fall into ways of living which distort our best selves.But there is always hope that we'll emerge from our course a little wiser, and look up "to see the stars again-the final words of Inferno.

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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 11 Jul - 15 Jul

WK 2 18 Jul - 22 Jul

WK 3 25 Jul - 29 Jul

WK 4 1 Aug - 5 Aug

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