Summer school in ancient Athens


Dean of the College John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, began his June 22 Western Civilization I class by surrounding his seat with Thucydides's The History of the Peloponnesian War, several reference works, notes, folders, a cup of coffee, and an eyeglasses case. Despite the fortifications between him and 20 summer students in Cobb 107, he discussed the Greek polis with casual ease, moving effortlessly between the classical and the contemporary. Comparing Chicago's legal system with ancient Athenian law, he explained that, as with Athens, there is a “distinction between law and Chicago law.” He continued, “Things are done a little differently in the city.”

Boyer then asked how modern readers should evaluate Thucydides's history. Students suggested that distinguishing objectivity and myth would be a good way to appraise the text, and Boyer agreed: “[Thucydides] expects us to believe this stuff, and he tells us he’s making it up!” Yet modern readers should apply their own standards, he asserted, while keeping in mind that “there is no New York Times for the ancient world.” Though Thucydides was not always objective and lacked access to 21st-century research tools, the same is sometimes true of historians today, Boyer said. They both earn readers' confidence through the “authenticity and seriousness” in the tone and detail of their histories.

Seth Mayer, '08

Photos: Dean Boyer introduces the text to students; Boyer reads from Thucydides.

July 9, 2007