Class Name: “Madness and Wine in Classical Literature”
Taught By: Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics William Tortorelli
Here’s what Tortorelli had to say about his class:
I designed this course to address two basic questions: Why did the Greeks worship a god of drunkenness, and how does the embracing of ecstatic experience fit into a rational society? The ancient Greeks founded Western Civilization as an exercise of reason and rationality, but their writings show an equal fascination with the irrational: for every Apollo a Dionysus. Their poetry, their religion, their philosophies, all pay equal honor both to reason and to madness and intoxication.
The course starts with Plato’s Phaedrus, in which Socrates discusses forms of madness that are beneficial gifts from the gods (drunken rites of Dionysus, prophecy from Apollo, poetic inspiration by the Muses, and love from Eros and Aphrodite). The central text is Euripides’ Bacchae, a tragedy about the coming of Dionysus to the Greek world. We bring in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy in order to explore the relationship between art and madness, following up with studies in neuroscience of correlations between creativity, mental illness, and the effects of psychoactive intoxicants.
This is a writing seminar, so the primary focus is creating strategies for developing rhetorical arguments. I describe a simple method for arriving at research paper topics that address novel ideas. We explore the ways that readers engage the texts that students and scholars write, as well as the manipulative power of skillfully deployed rhetoric. And, of course, we learn a few terms in ancient Greek along the way.
Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.