Classics professor Philip Freeman receives $24,950 NEH grant

June 26, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. Philip Freeman, Luther College professor of classics, has been named the recipient of a $24,950 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of his NEH Enduring Questions pilot course, titled "Enduring Questions: Gilgamesh to Frankenstein." Freeman will teach the new course spring semester of the 2009-10 academic year at Luther College.

Freeman's Enduring Questions program award of $24,950 was among $21.4 million in NEH grant awards for 154 high quality humanities projects announced in June. The grants provide support to projects in diverse fields of the humanities.

Grants were awarded to the top proposals for Enduring Questions undergraduate courses that engage the great questions, such as "What is justice?," and that explore significant events and themes in history and culture.

Freeman's course "Enduring Questions: From Gilgamesh to Frankenstein" is an exploration of crucial questions through the reading of key works from some of the greatest minds in history. Students will read The Epic of Gilgamesh, Sophocles's Antigone, several Platonic dialogues, Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, Dante's Inferno, Machiavelli's The Prince, Shakespeare's King Lear, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

The readings will be supplemented by attendance at local artistic and dramatic events and by the study of material artifacts in museums.

"The best questions we can ask our students are the ones that can never be fully answered," Professor Freeman states in his course proposal. "In 'Enduring Questions: From Gilgamesh to Frankenstein,' we propose an intellectually challenging course which will explore such questions through the reading of classic texts in their entirety.

"The three driving questions in this course will be: 'What are friendship and love?' 'What is justice?' 'What do we mean by human dignity?'"

Students will first read The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest surviving stories in history, about a great Sumerian king who discovers a true friend, only to lose him and ultimately realize what it means to be human. Other early readings include the Greek playwright Sophocles's Antigone, with its revelations about the dangers of pride, the power of forgiveness, and the conflict of family versus community; and Plato's Symposium that deals with the question of love, and his Crito and Phaedo in which Socrates addresses the problem of injustice.

As the course progresses through the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Dante, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Swift, Wollstonecraft and Shelley, students will explore enduring questions that are at the core of humanity. These questions include coming to terms with a violent world, human weakness, justice governed by primal love, can the end really can justify the means, the costs of love and the tragedy of pride, politics and the foibles of human nature, the rights and human dignity of women, and what are the limits of what human beings can and should achieve.

"This course will not be just an intellectual history, but a discovery of how the these books can talk to each other and to us," states Freeman. "We will discuss what Plato would say about the problems of friendship found in Gilgamesh. How would Marcus Aurelius respond to the proposals of Machiavelli? Could Lear learn anything from the struggles of Antigone?"

The course will also encourage students to consider how they might apply the insights gained to their own lives. The readings and classroom discussion will be supplemented with class trips to artistic and dramatic events at Luther College and in the local area and a trip to the Oriental Institute Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago to study artifacts of the cultures in the readings. Freeman and students will also develop a blog to publicize the course and its content to the campus community and the wider college community.

Freeman holds the master of arts degree in classics from the University of Texas at Austin. He holds the master of arts degree in Celtic languages and literatures and a joint doctoral degree in classical philology and Celtic languages and literatures from Harvard University.

Freeman holds the Orlando W. Qualley Chair of Classical Languages at Luther College. Before joining the classics department at Luther, Freeman taught at Boston University and Washington University. He has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.

An internationally recognized specialist in Greek, Roman, medieval culture and Celtic studies, he is the author of Julius Caesar (Simon & Schuster, 2008); The Philosopher and the Druids (Simon & Schuster, 2006); St. Patrick of Ireland (Simon & Schuster, 2004); War, Women, and Druids (University of Texas Press, 2002); The Galatian Language (Mellen Press, 2001); and Ireland and the Classical World (University of Texas Press, 2001).

A frequent speaker and presenter. Freeman has given talks on the ancient world at the Smithsonian Institution and interviews on National Public Radio, Minnesota Public Television, and public radio stations across the Midwest.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

More information about the June 2009 NEH grant awards is available at Web site http://neh.gov/news/archive/20090615.html.