Comparative Literature | Senior Sem in Comp Literature
C405 | 26358 | Dr. Jeff Johnson

Department of Comparative Literature- Fall, 2007

Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature
Topic: Pre-Modern Literary Theory
CMLT-C 405/26358    11:15-12:30   MW

Above class meets COLL A&H requirements
Above class meets with CMLT-C 503

As a child, who didn’t dream of growing up to take a senior seminar
in pre-modern theories of literature and criticism?  Now those
childhood dreams can come true.  This course is an in-depth survey
of texts crucial to the history and development of theories about
literature and its criticism in the West from ancient Greece to
Renaissance England.  Despite their sometimes narrow focus, these
documents spawned their own philosophy of what literature is, can
be, and should be that continues to exert a strong influence today.
Their technical vocabulary, interpretive points of view, and methods
of reading in many ways remain unsurpassed for sophistication and
subtlety.  They define the sources, purposes, and machinery of
literature: the nature of artistic genius; the traits of literary
genres and their special language; rhetoric and audience awareness;
and the connections among literature, history, philosophy, and
ethics.  For centuries countless poets and playwrights have thrived
within the tradition constituted by these texts, while many others
have expressed their creativity in opposition to them.  Critics,
scholars, and theorists of the arts, meanwhile, have used these same
documents to praise their favorite artists, create exclusive canons
of taste, and to bash anyone whose works offended them.

We will read Aristotle’s Poetics, Longinus’ On the Sublime, Horace’s
Ars Poetica, St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching, Hugh of St.
Victor’s Didascalicon, and Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy in their
entireties.  We will be revisiting the debate over whether
literature is essentially a perversion of reality that corrupts
civilization or an expression of truths that ennobles humanity.
Beginning with Plato’s famous banishment of poets from his ideal
republic, we will see the intersection of literary art and social
reactions to it.  We will also be reading works of literature from
the same centuries to see in what ways poets and playwrights
embraced, defied, or ignored the principles co  ntained in the works
of Aristotle and his intellectual descendents: selections from
Homer’s Odyssey, Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians, Geoffrey
Chaucer’s dream visions, and Shakespeare’s Pericles.

Workload will include an analytical essay, an annotated
bibliography, and a research essay (with a separate topic proposal),
as well as short papers.  Prerequisite: at least one 300-level
course in Comparative Literature, pre-modern history, or Classical
Studies, or the consent of the instructor.  This course will meet
with CMLT-C503.  For further information, contact Jeffrey Johnson at