Course: Ethos & Mythos: Ethics & Stories in the Cradle of Civilization

HC 221H

Professor: Kimberley Parzuchowski

What does it mean to be a woman in the first millennium BCE?  What does it mean to be a slave?  What is required of a moral agent?  What is one responsible for? How is one protected from injustice?  In this course, we will explore ethics as conceived in Western antiquity in a variety of texts including biblical literature, Stoic literature, Plato & Aristotle, and through the narratives of ancient Mesopotamia, Israel, & Greece.

We will consider themes of heroism, vulnerability, moral luck, gender, family, community, and how moral values impact people in various positions in the societies of this early period.  The ethical texts we’ll survey will be the Code of Hammurabi, biblical laws and injunctions, and the Greek ethical thought of some Pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle.  The narratives will be The Epic of Gilgamesh; the biblical stories of Ruth, Esther, David & Absalom, Judith, Barak, & Jael; The Oresteia trilogy, Antigone, Hecuba, & Lysistrata.  We will also look at the role of narrative in moral agency and responsibility in the work of Martha Nussbaum, Alisdair MacIntyre, and Paul Ricoeur.

Journeying through the stories and values of early Western Civilization, we will consider whether these ancient texts have insight for us today as we face the challenges of the changes in democracy. Genuine pluralism seeks to bring all voices to the table and ensure the potential wellbeing of all levels of society.  The relative homogeneity of these early cultures whose ideas we have inherited require philosophical reflection into the nature of that inheritance. What, if anything, can we, ought we to bring forward into our current ethos?  What interpretations of these texts can we offer that will shed light on how we treat each other today?