Prof. Armstrong

Engraved over the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, the ancient imperative, “Know Thyself,” occupies a pivotal and provocative place in literature and culture.  What might it mean?  Is ‘to know oneself’ a beginning point, or the culmination of learning?  Is it a necessary condition for learning—or the very essence of learning itself?

As a command steeped in both mysterious authority and the reality of each person’s life, the pursuit of self-knowledge certainly seems important.  How can we pursue it, and what happens if we don’t?  Must we be deliberate and intentional in pursuit of it, or will self-knowledge simply come our way by time and circumstance?   

One thing is clear, however.  This precept makes no promises: happiness and profit are just as likely outcomes as suffering and loss. 

This course will give us an opportunity to read, discuss, and write about the extraordinary or mundane, yet always powerful ways in which people have come to know themselves in literary history.  Possible texts include selections from Plato’s dialogues and the 10th Century Byzantine Suda, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s King Henry IV part 1, Pope’s Essay on Man, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, and Marjane Satrapi's comic Persoplis.  Works from Walt Whitman, Margaret Atwood, Kate Chopin, Kurt Vonnegut, and Mitch Albom may be considered.  Most of these texts will be made available on-line or in a course packet.  One or more of the films Henry V, Good Will Hunting, or Beginners will also inform our understanding of this always intriguing topic.    

Course requirements will include at least 2 short response papers, at least two 4-6 page essays, one (group) presentation, a final exam as well as regular preparation and participation in class discussions.  This’ll be fun.