Literature Humanities

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Lit Hum books

Sing, Muse. Literature Humanities is popularly known as Lit Hum . Officially, it's called Masterpieces of Western Literature and Philosophy.

The course is a central part of the Core Curriculum and is taken by all Columbia College first years. The first semester covers mainly Greek literature, with some Bible-stuff at the end. The second semester starts with Virgil and ends with Virginia Woolf. For your convenience, we have prepared a "lite" guide to the course (see below). That said, you probably won't get most of it until you've actually done the reading.


Although the experience of receiving one's free copy of Iliad, a gift from the Columbia College Alumni Association, and meeting one's freshman classmates in the first Lit Hum class is marketed as one of the central experiences of an education at Columbia College, Lit Hum historically played poor cousin to its Core Curriculum counterpart in philosophy and politics, Contemporary Civilization. While the latter course began under its current name as early as 1919, Lit Hum developed out of a series of later course concepts.

The first was John Erskine's General Honors course, first proposed in 1917, but not meeting for the first time until 1921. This was the first expression of that educator's philosophy that students should engage in reading the "Great Books" of Western Civilization. This course was later co-taught by Mortimer Adler and Mark Van Doren. Van Doren went on to create General Honors' successor, Humanities A, which he himself taught for 17 years. Adler would go on to become a popularizer of the Great Books movement, taking the Gospel of the Core to some school in the Second City. During the 1930s, another class, the Colloquium on Important Books, co-taught by Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling, would embrace the Great Books philosophy and help shape modern Lit Hum.


Although the Lit Hum syllabus is among the most ironclad in all the Core Curriculum, parts are subject to change and modification due to instructor discretion, grad student strikes, and other unforseen circumstances. In Fall 2006, for example, the standard first semester syllabus, normally all Greek and Biblical texts, was altered to include a modern play by Vaclav Havel, who was on campus at the time as artist in residence. Still, modifications are often minor - a different Greek play substituted for the Medea, an additional Shakespeare play, another Homeric poem, etc. Such changes can mean that one becomes lost when your friend from another section begins discussing an anomalous inclusion, like The Baccahe, but the majority of the curriculum is fairly standard. A greater schism may open with a much older alumnus of Columbia College, who might remember a time when Milton, Voltaire, and/or Goethe appeared on the syllabus. The following table is intended to include all works in current use (either this year or in the past two or three years):

First semester

Author Title Online versions "Lite" study guide
Homer Iliad [1] [2] Achilles is a whiny momma's boy
Only Zeus Knows (probably Homer) Hymn to Demeter [3] Has to do with fertility, in every sense of the word. Heh.
Homer Odyssey [4] [5] Odysseus has crazy sex appeal
Herodotus Histories [6] Herodotus likes to think he's a real historian, but he makes stuff up
Aeschylus The Oresteia (trilogy) [7] [8]/[9]/[10] Clytemnestra is a stone cold bitch
Sophocles Oedipus [11] Oedipus loved his Mother, more than his eyes
Euripides Medea [12] Medea is a psycho femi-nazi
Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War [13] [14] Thucydides likes to think he's a real historian, but he makes up "quotes"
Aristophanes Lysistrata [15] Women on strike... no sex!
Plato Symposium [16] The greeks had sex with little boys; oh, and Socrates makes stuff up
God (via Moses) Book of Genesis [17] [18] Buy one get one free! That's right, get two of everything!
God? Book of Job [19] [20] The old testament God is schizophrenic
God (via Luke) Gospel of Luke [21] Uh, I didn't get this far with my reading
God (via John) Gospel of John [22] Hey Jews, here's why you should become Christian

Second semester

Author Title Online versions "Lite" study guide
Virgil Aeneid [23] Aeneas the pussy from Trojan does an Odyssey-load of travelling and an Illiad-load of fighting
Augustine Confessions [24] [25] Babies are evil!
Dante Inferno [26] [27] Which circle of hell will your i-banker and lawyer parents go to?
Boccaccio The Decameron [28] Ten people had an orgy in the countryside
Montaigne Essays [29] Find out all about my medieval eating and shitting schedule
Shakespeare King Lear [30] A dozen characters get seriously fucked up when the king stupidly decides to retire. Lesson: work till you drop.
Cervantes Don Quixote [31] [32] [33] Meet a fucked-up Spanish wannabe knight
Shakespeare Hamlet [34] The protagonist is deep down just a poor emo kid
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice [35] [36] [37] [[38] A woman's place is in marriage... and in the kitchen, so make me a sandwich, Barnard girl! Also, don't elope.
Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment [39] [40] Murder!
Woolf To the Lighthouse Time passes. There's a window. More time passes. There's a painting. More time passes.

See also

External links

  • Official Lit Hum home page