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This is Sparta!

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 29, 2015 - July 10, 20152M-F 3:15-6:05POpenJoseph McDonald10540

Course Description

Why do we still glorify the Spartans in movies and books over 2000 years after their city and way of life fell to ruins? What about Spartan history and culture has captured the imaginations of those who have studied them, both in the ancient and modern worlds? Their strict, regimented lifestyle produced a class of dedicated, fearsome warriors, but did their eugenics and training program actually seal the fate of their society? What was life like for the women, children, slaves, and others who helped make up this society? How much can we really know about their culture when in fact so little of our written evidence comes directly from Spartans? Why did philosophers, from Plato to Rousseau, admire Sparta when they imagined an ideal society of their own?

In this course we will engage with these and other issues by studying the history and culture of ancient Sparta from her beginnings to her final decline into obscurity and impotence. We will learn about warfare in the ancient world, and why the Spartans excelled in it. We will examine some of the ancient literary texts that tell us about Spartan society, considering how these authors construct an image of Sparta that may or may not conform to historical reality. In the process students will be introduced to basic methods for learning about the ancient world - for instance, how can a fragment of a poem tell us about the culture that produced it? How can a piece of pottery tell a story? Students will practice argumentative and analytical skills both in class discussions and in a final short essay that engages with literary and historical issues.

At the end of this course students should be more familiar with who the ancient Spartans actually were, what living in their society was like, and the complex legacy of the Spartans that reverberates to this day . This course will provide a solid background for anyone considering further studies in the ancient world, and the skills emphasized in it will be useful for future study in broader fields like history and literature.

No prerequisites; all ancient source readings will be in translation.