To paraphrase many an historian prior to lecture: “Today’s class will turn both brutal and beautiful directions.” Our Catalyst class will feature two intensive weeks of this adage in high resolution. As we focus on the stories of blood spilled in war, the sacrifices made to gods long forgotten and the treasured monuments erected to memorialize the heroic dead. As we make London and Paris our living classrooms, we’ll not simply study the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and their neighbors, but will get up close and personal with the artifacts and creations their sometimes poetic and sometimes brutal efforts to offer homage to eternity left behind. Each day in class, we will use the trove of ancient artifacts as our source materials to interrogate how power, religion and social life operated among the ancients.
While traversing the busy metropolitan streets of what were once only colonies of an ancient empire, we will meditate on what urban life was like 2,000 years ago. Not only will we read about gladiators and the politics of Roman games, but we will do so in the ruins of an arena, the very place where gladiators fought and died. We will retread the steps of the followers of the mysterious god Mithras as we walk through his temple, brought to life by the latest technology. We will read the work of Julius Caesar on his war with the ancestors of the French, while gathered in the famous cafés of Paris. Standing before the tomb of Napoleon, we will discover how his conquest of Egypt in the 18th century lit the spark of Europe’s obsession with “exotic” ancient Egypt.
As we walk through the celebrated halls of the Louvre in Paris, and the British Museum in London, we will reconstruct the histories of the ancient past through its remains. Our course would not be complete without experiencing the physical dominance of Hammurabi’s Code, one of the oldest law codes in the world, or gazing upon the imposing, colossal statues of Akhenaten, Egypt’s heretical king. Using the most famous royal decree from antiquity, the Rosetta Stone, we will learn to read some basic Egyptian hieroglyphs. From there, we turn our attention to the controversial Elgin marbles, taken from the Athenian Parthenon, a symbol to one of the world’s first democracies.
Come uncover the ancient past and experience for yourself the world of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. The sacred and the profane will both be in your view, so will the brutal and the eternally beautiful.