Journeys to the Underworld: From Homer to Dante

95 TUTOR: Susan Brockman (PhD)

Why visit the dead? Because they have fascinating things to tell you, of course! During these sessions, you will take a look at the amazing visions of the afterlife in Western literature, from Homer to Dante. Why is it a seeming requirement that all heroes make a visit to the dead? In each selection of work from Homer and Plato, Vergil and Dante, you will find heroes sent on this difficult journey by fate, by force, for duty or for love, yet, none return unchanged by their encounters. In all cases, lessons are learned and shared with you, the reader. In spending time with them, you're likely to find that the ancient dead can teach us what these cultures thought about life.

Course Notes

Students will receive xerox copies of a number of texts, with notes and other helpful hand-outs. No prior knowledge of the material is required.

Day 1: Course introduction; what was the Classical concept of the Underworld? Examples from a number of Classical works may be discussed.

Day 2: Homer's Underworld in the Odyssey; why does Odysseus go there? what does hel earn? what do we learn?

Day 3: Plato, The Republic, "The Myth of Er.” Plato ends his Utopian work on the ideal society with a trip to the Underworld; it seems that one must understand what a good life is in order to learn how to live one.

Day 4: Vergil's Aeneid, Book 6. This famous section of Vergil's epic greatly expands the vision of its Greek predecessors; it is this section of the Aeneid which inspired Dante to make Vergil his guide to his vision of a Christian "afterlife”-a concept actually foreign to the Greco-Roman world. Vergil's hero, Aeneas, learns many important lessons: most important, perhaps, that death is often the easy way out and that the harder duty is sometimes to live and carry on.

Day 5: We will end our course in Dante, where we could, perhaps ironically, spend a lifetime. Many have pondered why Dante chose to have himself, as hero, led through the lands of the dead by Vergil, a pre-Christian poet. Through the marvellous imagery of Inferno, the remarkable ways the punishments mirror the sins, we'll explore some of the myriad ways human beings have of spoiling the gifts we are given. Dante's dead call to our humanity, our sense of right and wrong, and leave us with some chilling knowledge of what can happen when we fall into ways of living which distort our best selves.

Course Tutor

Susan Brockman


About Susan

With a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, Susan has taught at the City University of New York and at Stuyvesant High School for 35 years. She likes to say that she's taught "many things to many people" but mostly Classical Literature in translation, Latin and Greek, and Linguistics. She delights in helping students find how completely alive the Classical world is today. No need to make it relevant; it requires only some keys to the workings of ancient minds and being human. She hopes to enlighten and entertain, and welcomes moments of awe whenever she and her students can find them.

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Summer School Dates for 2024

All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM