Ancient Life and Literature - Classes with Kevin


Online Education with Kevin O'Brien

Ancient Life and Literature

 Click on the BUY NOW button to pay for the Second Semester!

  I will be teaching Ancient Life and Literature online for St. Mary's Classical Catholic Cooperative Fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021.  Other online families, outside the co-op, are invited to join! 

The course will meet once a week on Wednesdays at 9:00 am, beginning Sept. 23.  Click here to see the meeting schedule.

Here's the course description and syllabus ...

GOAL: To learn about the ancient world of Greece and Rome and to see how the literature, art and philosophy of the ancient Greeks and Romans grappled with the most important questions of life, questions which are still relevant today; and to see how the Ancients began what is called “The Great Conversation”, which is the heart of the Western Tradition, “the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining the work of their predecessors”.

This course will be a mere overview of the major cultural aspects of the Ancient World, with the hope that we will inspire students to investigate further some of the things we’re studying that will most capture their attention.


Online live Zoom meetings once a week for twelve weeks, with occasional asynchronous video lectures.

Week 1. - Selections from The Apology of Socrates.  What on earth was the crisis in Athens that led to the condemnation of the one man who was most ardent in seeking God - to the killing of Socrates, the ancient Pagan who was most like Christ?  This introductory meeting will show that we won’t just be studying the ancient world to pick up trivial bits of information, but to see how the greatest of the world’s pre-Christian cultures grappled with the questions “Who is God?” and “What is the Meaning of Life?” - questions that are central to our lives today.

Week 2. - History and Selections from Hesiod’s Theogony.  What is the overall history of the Hellenic people?  How did they see themselves in relation to “the gods”?  What did they think was the origin of man and of the universe?  How did their Mythology and Religion fit into this?  Why did Socrates and even the pre-socratic philosophers begin to push back against Hesiod and the Greek Myths?  In what way was the Greek religion moving from polytheism to monotheism?

Week 3. - Ancient Drama: Prometheus Bound.  What was Tragedy?  How was it connected with religious festivals?  In what way were the stories of Prometheus and Oedipus connected with who the Athenians were? 

Week 4.  - Selections from Plato’s Republic.  How is Tragedy connected with Justice?  How did Socrates approach the notion of what is Good?  What is the Allegory of the Cave?  What does The Republic tell us about the afterlife?  What is the Ring of Gyges and how does Tolkien make use of it in The Lord of the Rings?

Week 5. - Selections from Plato’s Symposium.  What is love?  That is the central question of our existence as Chrsitians.  How did Socrates and his fellow philosophers approach this question and what did they learn that still holds true today?  Is the love discussed at the Symposium, in the fourth century BC, the love of Christ, whose incarnation was yet to come?

Week 6. - The Oresteia.  We have learned how Socrates approached the questions of justice and love.  How were these same questions dealt with in drama?  According to Aeschylus, what is the Divine solution to injustice and to vengeance?

Week 7. - The Oresteia continued.  

Week 8. - The Oresteia conclusion.  

Week 9. - The Trojan War in Western Literature.  Since Homer, the Trojan War has become perhaps the most celebrated event in Ancient History and has inspired Virgil, Shakespeare and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  An episode from the Trojan War even becomes a central event in Hamlet, a play that takes place almost 3,000 years later.  Why is this?  What does the Trojan War tell us about our lives today?

Week 10. - Selections from The Iliad. How did Homer set the stage for all epic and

heroic literature that followed? What was the Trojan War and how does Homer relate it

to both men and “gods”?

Week 11. - Selections from The Odyssey. How does the “sequel” to The Iliad become

the model for the Hero’s Journey? What are the deeper meanings of the Myth that The

Odyssey conveys?

Week 12. - The Cultural Impact of Hellenic Civilization on the Jews, the Christians and the Modern World.  With selections from GK Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, we will get an overview of the limitations on what Greek culture was able to do.  What happened during the Hellenistic invasion of the Holy Land?  How did the Jews protect their culture and religion from their Greek conquerers? This story is told in the books of Maccabees in the Old Testament, selections of which we will readAlso, how did Greek language and thought influence the New Testament, especially the writings of the Apostle St. Paul?


Online live Zoom meetings once a week for twelve weeks, with occasional asynchronous video lectures.

Week 1. How Greece Leads to Rome: The Aeneid. The Roman poet Virgil continues the story of The Trojan War and its aftermath with his epic The Aeneid - which is a story that connects the end of Greece with the beginning of Rome … and, according to legend, with the beginning of England.

Week 2. The Aeneid continued.

Week 3. The Aeneid continued.

Week 4. The Aeneid continued.

Week 5. Selections from Daily Life in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook.  This is an excellent book to discover how the Ancient Romans lived from day to day.  How did they cook, what did they wear, what were their sports and entertainments and beliefs, etc?

Week 6. Carthage Must Be Destroyed! - This was a rallying cry of the Romans of the Late Republic. Why was this important?  We will look for to the life of Regulus, a hero of the Punic (Carthaginian) Wars and to the writings of GK Chesterton and Rudyard Kipling to tell us!

Week 7. Jesus Christ and Rome - GK Chesterton in The Everlasting Man conveys the crisis of the Ancient world - the transformation of Rome from Republic to Empire … and to the failure of Pagan society.  In this class we will learn what kind of world Christ was born into and why He was both an answer and a threat to that world.

Week 8. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar - This classic play of the Renaissance is the best way of understanding what I have elsewhere called the “ineffectual sacrifice” of Julius Caesar, and its effects: the reverberation of revolution and bloodshed throughout history.

Week 9. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar continued.

Week 10. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar continued.

Week 11.  Selections from St. Augustine’s Confessions - How did the Church react to the Fall of Rome?  St. Augustine’s life is the best example of this - and his spiritual autobiography The Confessions remains a classic and a glimpse into the effects of God’s grace on a sinful Roman citizen.

Week 12. After Rome.  How did the Church step into the gap made by the fall of the Roman Empire?  How did the Church, in a sense, continue that empire?  How did the early heresies and counsels bridge the way from the Dark Ages to Medieval Europe?

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