November 16, 2000

Rawlings to Teach on Thucydides

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Beginning next semester, Cornell students will have their first opportunity to sit before President Hunter R. Rawlings III as the classics scholar, not as the University’s top level administrator.

Classics 258, which Rawlings will teach along with Profs. Hayden N. Pelliccia and Jeffrey S. Rusten, classics, will focus on Periclean Athens and the political, social, and intellectual aspects of the fifth century B.C. This introductory-level course has no prerequisites.

“One theme of this course will be how a very creative and vital society can come apart under political stress,” Rawlings said. “We want to study the stress of war and politics.”

Rawlings noted that during the fifth century B.C., Periclean Athens became a major center of culture for the world. This Golden Age period was highlighted by the first productions of major volumes on philosophy, rhetoric, politics, drama, literature and art that have become an integral part of western civilization.

According to Pelliccia, the fall of Periclean Athens is not very different from modern politics in the United States.

“Here it is, a full week after election day, still with no president chosen, and a crisis looming over our democracy. Mightn’t it be useful to look at how the first democracy unraveled under its own internal pressures?” Pelliccia suggested.

“It is a very good subject for anyone even vaguely interested in the ancient world,” Laura Gawlinski grad said. “Periclean Athens is what most people think of when they think of Greece, from the Parthenon to democracy.”

All professors leading the class are experts in this topic.

Rawlings will focus on the works of Thucydides, a historian of Periclean Athens who wrote of the fall of the world’s first democracy. Pelliccia will lecture on literature and philosophy, and Rusten will teach on comedy and religion. There will also be two guest lectures by Prof. Mireille Lee, classics, on art and architecture.

“We hope students will gain an appreciation of what Athens went through socially and culturally, and an understanding of how these themes may be looked at today,” Rawlings said.

Other works to be studied in this course include Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Euripides’ Orestes, Plato’s Gorgias and Apology, and Plutarch’s Lives of Cimon, Pericles, and Alcibiades.

This will be Rawlings’ first opportunity to teach a class during his tenure at Cornell. Rawlings regularly taught courses while he was president of the University of Iowa.

Rawlings accepted the role of president at Cornell contingent upon being invited to join the faculty of the Classics Department as a professor. He plans to limit his travel schedule in order to attend all of the lectures.

Two years ago, Rawlings and Rusten taught an alumni course in Athens on life in ancient Athens and the trial of Socrates.

Rawlings stressed that teaching is one of the highlights of his job.

“The best part about teaching is that it gives me a chance to get to know students and engage with them intellectually,” Rawlings said.

Many students are looking forward to having Rawlings teach this course. They are excited not only because he is Cornell’s president, but also because of his vast knowledge of this subject. “Professor Rawlings is an expert on this period’s culture and history, and his work particularly in relation to Thucydides is some of the best in recent scholarship. Unlike many university presidents, who divorce themselves from scholarship and academics except from the administrative side, Professor Rawlings continues to take his academic career seriously,” Daniel Turkeltaub grad said.

The four credit course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:10 to 11:25 a.m. this spring.

Archived article by Seth Harris