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What makes a written work eternal—its message still so fundamental to the way we live that it continues to speak to us, hundreds or thousands of years distant from the lifetime of its author?
Why do we still respond to an ancient Greek playwright's tale of the Titan so committed to humanity's survival that he is willing to endure eternal torture in his defiance of the gods? To the cold advice of a 16th-century Florentine exiled from the corridors of power? To the words of a World War I German veteran writing of the horrors of endless trench warfare?
Most important of all, what do such works—"Great Books" in every sense—mean to us? Can they deepen our self-knowledge and wisdom? Are our lives changed in any meaningful way by the experience of reading them?
In this course, Professor J. Rufus Fears presents his choices of some of the most essential writings in history. These are books that have shaped the minds of great individuals, who in turn have shaped events of historic magnitude.
This course does not analyze the literature or discuss it in detail; rather, it focuses on intellectual history and ethics. What Professor Fears does is to take the underlying ideas of each great work and show how these ideas can be put to use in a moral and ethical life.
Beginning with his definition of a great book as one that possesses a great theme of enduring importance, noble language that "elevates the soul and ennobles the mind," and a universality that enables it to "speak across the ages," Professor Fears examines a body of work that offers an extraordinary gift of wisdom to those willing to receive it.
From the Aeneid and the Book of Job to Othello and 1984, the selections range in time from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 20th century, and in locale from Mesopotamia and China to Europe and America.
1Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison
3Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
5Book of Exodus
6Gospel of Mark
10Book of Job
14Dante, The Divine Comedy
15Shakespeare, Othello, the Moor of Venice
16Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
17Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
18Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
19George Orwell, 1984
21Pericles, Oration; Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
22Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
23Confucius, The Analects
24Machiavelli, The Prince
26John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
27Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur
28Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 1
29Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 2
30Henry David Thoreau, Walden
31Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
32Lord Acton, The History of Freedom
33Cicero, On Moral Duties (De Officiis)
34Gandhi, An Autobiography
35Churchill, My Early Life; Painting as a Pastime; WWII
36 Lessons from the Great Books