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History of World Literature

History of World Literature

Professor Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College

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History of World Literature

Course No. 2300
Professor Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College
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Course No. 2300
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 70 illustrations and portraits. The illustrations add a visual context to fascinating episodes from world literature, including the heroic triumphs of Beowulf and the frightening transformation in Kafka's The Metamorphosis; and the portraits and photographs capture the likenesses of Voltaire, Pirandello, Akhmatova, and many other internationally renowned authors.
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Course Overview

In The History of World Literature, you'll sample brilliant masterpieces that reflect humanity's deep need for self-expression. It's a journey that will take you through time and around the world-from the enormous auditoriums of Ancient Greece, to the dazzling courts of Classical China and Japan, to the prison camps of Stalinist Russia, to a quiet study in the home of a 19th-century New England spinster.

Your guide on this enchanting literary tour is distinguished scholar Grant L. Voth. An experienced teacher, critic, and lecturer, Professor Voth provides the perfect introduction to the history of world literature, offering concise summaries and thought-provoking interpretations of each work.

"Tell Me a Story"

As Professor Voth explains, "As long as there have been people in the world, there have been stories." In this course, you'll sample some of the greatest literary expressions the world has known and experience storytelling in its many forms, including poetry, drama, and narrative.

The course begins in the ancient world, where tribal bards created national myths and founded religious texts out of legends, history, philosophy, and local lore.

From there, you'll travel to the Far East to encounter a completely different form of early literature: the brief, suggestive, and deeply personal lyric poets of Classical Japan and China.

You'll also wander the countryside and aristocratic courts of India and the Middle East, collecting stories and folklore of magical men, terrifying beasts, alluring women, and conniving tricksters that live on in today's fairytales and bedtime stories.

Subsequent lectures follow the evolution of the art of the story as it appears in sophisticated narratives such as Wu Ch'eng-en's Monkey and Voltaire's Candide, the poetic masterpiece of Dante's Inferno, the great drama pioneered by Shakespeare and Molire, and other works of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment.

With the coming of the modern world, you'll trace the rise of new forms intent on capturing daily life with scientific precision, from the Realist narratives of Flaubert and Dostoevsky to the groundbreaking drama of Chekhov and Ibsen. The course also explores the experimental modes that followed Realism, including Brecht's politically charged experimental drama, Beckett's Absurdism, and the fragmented Postmodern perspectives of writers such as Borges, Rushdie, and Pirandello.

As you'll soon see, none of these great works stands in isolation. Each is part of a great web of influences and responses, which you'll learn about over the course of this comprehensive survey. With Professor Voth as your guide, you'll follow the trajectory of stories as they are created, passed along, and adapted to suit different cultures and historical circumstances.

Are you ready for a good story? Join Professor Voth for this tour of The History of World Literature, and prepare for an enriching and satisfying excursion around the world and into the human imagination.

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48 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
Year Released: 2007
  • 1
    Stories and Storytellers
    Humankind has always sought to understand its existence through stories. In this opening lecture, Professor Voth provides a preview of the literary journey to come, and begins to define the relationship between history and literature. x
  • 2
    The Epic of Gilgamesh
    In this lecture, we examine one of the world's oldest literary works. This ancient poem combines a heroic story of a legendary king with a spiritual quest about coming to terms with the inevitability of mortality. x
  • 3
    The Hebrew Bible
    Blending literature, history, and theology, the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) is perhaps one of the most important books ever written. We explore some of the unique elements of this sacred literary text, including its introduction of the concept of monotheism. x
  • 4
    Homer's Iliad
    Through a consideration of Homer's classic poem about the fall of Troy, Professor Voth defines the key elements of the epic and examines how the poem expresses ancient Greek views of heroism and individual honor. x
  • 5
    Homer's Odyssey
    Our consideration of the epic continues with the Odyssey, which follows the 10-year journey of the warrior Odysseus after the end of the Trojan War. x
  • 6
    Chinese Classical Literature
    This lecture features a lyric poem and two prose works that demonstrate how early Chinese literature differed from contemporary works from Mesopotamia, Israel, and Greece. x
  • 7
    Greek Tragedy
    By the 5th century B.C.E., Greek theater had entered a golden age, producing plays that would set a standard of excellence for centuries to come. In this lecture, we explore the three greatest Greek playwrights: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. x
  • 8
    Virgil's Aeneid
    When Virgil (70–19 B.C.E.) set out to write a national Roman epic poem, he took as his model the classic epics of Ancient Greece. Professor Voth illuminates the ways that Virgil both imitated and adapted the epic to express the values of his own culture. x
  • 9
    Bhagavad Gita
    At seven times the combined length of the Iliad and Odyssey, the Mahabharata may be the longest epic poem in the world. In this lecture, we examine one episode of this enormous work, the Bhagavad Gita, which offers a Hindu meditation on the meaning of life. x
  • 10
    The New Testament
    Like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament can be read as history, literature, and theology. This lecture examines how the various parts of this seminal text reflect the goals of their different authors and the needs of their particular audiences. x
  • 11
    In this lecture, Professor Voth compares the Germanic saga Beowulf with the other heroic epics studied in the course thus far. The poem also provides an opportunity to explore the variety of interpretations that can be made about a single literary work. x
  • 12
    Indian Stories
    We move from epic poetry to prose as we explore the rich narrative strategies of Indian stories in three collections: Jataka (Story of a Birth) , the Pañcatantra (The Five Books or the Five Strategies) , and the Kathasaritsagara (Ocean of the Rivers of Story) . x
  • 13
    T'ang Poetry
    China achieved one of its Golden Ages during the T'ang period (618–907 C.E.), which included a rich tradition of poetry. This lecture examines three T'ang poets to illustrate the deeply personal aesthetic of Chinese poetics. x
  • 14
    Early Japanese Poetry
    While Japanese poetry is indebted to Chinese models, it also boasts some unique features. Using several examples, Professor Voth outlines the key features of the Japanese aesthetic, which include irregular verse styles, simplicity, and the theme of transience. x
  • 15
    The Tale of Genji
    Written by a Japanese lady-in-waiting during the 11th century C.E., The Tale of Genji is believed to be the first novel in literary history. This complex tale presents a new kind of hero, for whom taste and sensitivity count for more than prowess on the battlefield. x
  • 16
    Inferno, from Dante's Divine Comedy
    Considered the greatest poem in the Western world, Dante's Divine Comedy traces the allegorical journey of a pilgrim from the depths of hell through purgatory and into heaven. We examine key features and interpretations of the first part of Dante's masterwork: Inferno. x
  • 17
    Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales
    Borrowing techniques from Boccaccio's Decameron, Geoffrey Chaucer narrates a variety of tales through a frame story about 30 travelers who tell stories during a pilgrimage to England's Canterbury Cathedral. x
  • 18
    1001 Nights
    In this lecture, we again consider the narrative technique of the "frame story": a work which includes within it many recounted tales. Complex and encyclopedic, 1001 Nights serves as a crossroads where stories from many different cultures meet. x
  • 19
    Wu Ch'eng-en's Monkey
    Based in history and enhanced by legend and folklore, Monkey tells the story of a Chinese monk on a journey to India, accompanied by fabulous creatures, the most important of which is Monkey, one of the great creations in literature. x
  • 20
    The Heptameron
    Based in history and enhanced by legend and folklore, Monkey tells the story of a Chinese monk on a journey to India, accompanied by fabulous creatures, the most important of which is Monkey, one of the great creations in literature. x
  • 21
    After a brief account of drama in other cultures, Professor Voth considers Shakespeare's place in English drama, focusing on his use of language. A closer look at a famous speech from Macbeth serves to illustrate the Bard's mastery of poetic language. x
  • 22
    Cervantes's Don Quixote
    While not the first novel in history, Don Quixote is one of the first in the Western world and has been by far the most influential. This lecture explores Cervantes' revolutionary use of prose to present a realistic view of life that contrasted to the popular romances of his day. x
  • 23
    Molière's Plays
    This lecture opens with a consideration of the values and dramatic style of the Neoclassical Age (c.1660–1770) in Western literature. A master of theatrical comedy, French playwright Molière used the drama to point out society's foibles. x
  • 24
    Voltaire's Candide
    Why does suffering exist? Why are people prey to human cruelty and natural disasters? In Candide, Voltaire seeks to answer these questions. x
  • 25
    Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone
    Recounting the story of an aristocratic family in decline, The Story of the Stone is simultaneously a Buddhist-Taoist meditation on the illusory nature of existence and a gripping and detailed novel of personal relationships. x
  • 26
    Goethe's Faust
    Goethe's Faust is a new version of a story dating back to the 16th century, when the historical Faustus lived. In Goethe's version, Faust becomes the ultimate Romantic hero—one who strives to express his own will and experience all life has to offer. x
  • 27
    Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
    Brontë's story about the passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff is perhaps one of the best loved 19th-century novels. In this lecture, we explore the relationship of the novel to Romanticism and discuss Brontë's use of competing narrative perspectives. x
  • 28
    Pushkin's Eugene Onegin
    Alexander Pushkin is usually considered Russia's national poet—the equivalent of Shakespeare in England. In Eugene Onegin, he employed a complicated poetic form to create a witty novel-in-verse that satirizes Romantic excesses. x
  • 29
    Flaubert's Madame Bovary
    An ordinary story about ordinary people told with detachment and objectivity, Flaubert's tale of a bored housewife living in a French provincial town marks a turning point in literature: the rise of Realism. x
  • 30
    Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground
    Unappreciated in its own day, Notes from Underground serves as an excellent introduction to Dostoevsky's later novels. Through his unnamed narrator, the Russian novelist voiced the desire to rebel against the increasingly mass-produced culture of modern life. x
  • 31
    Twain's Huckleberry Finn
    In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain allowed a vernacular, regional character to tell his own story. In this lecture, we explore Twain's narrative achievement and the societal questions raised by his classic travel tale. x
  • 32
    Dickinson's Poetry
    After a brief consideration of Emily Dickinson's solitary life and writing career, we turn to the techniques that characterize her remarkable poetry: the use of common meter stanza form, unconventional punctuation, and grammatical density. x
  • 33
    Ibsen and Chekhov—Realist Drama
    In this lecture, we examine the works of two very different Realist playwrights. For Ibsen, Realism entailed bringing to the stage contemporary people and social concerns. For Chekhov, it required discarding the standard forms of the "well-made play" for a more realistic imitation of life. x
  • 34
    Rabindranath Tagore's Stories and Poems
    Absorbing the influence of Realist authors, Tagore adapted this literary style to reflect life in his native India. Through his short stories and poems, he criticized those who exploited the caste system, suppressed women, and benefited from the sufferings of the poor. x
  • 35
    Higuchi Ichiyō's "Child's Play"
    Although she had no exposure to Western Realism, Ichiyo pioneered a Japanese version of this literary movement in "Child's Play," her novella about children living in and around the pleasure district of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). x
  • 36
    Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
    In this elegiac novel, Proust sought to reject Realism and recreate the novel as an exploration of personal impressions. Influential to later writers, Proust's novel took a revolutionary approach by attempting to capture life as it is experienced. x
  • 37
    Joyce's Dubliners
    In a context of experimentation in all of the arts, we consider the contribution of James Joyce's Dubliners to the modern short story, focusing on Joyce's device of the epiphany, or revelation. x
  • 38
    Kafka's "The Metamorphosis"
    In this lecture, we consider the bleak, darkly comic work of Franz Kafka. In "The Metamorphosis," a man wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a gigantic insect—an absurd premise that reflects the alienation of modern life. x
  • 39
    Pirandello's Six Characters
    This lecture discusses the rebellion against Realism in drama exemplified in the work of Luigi Pirandello. In Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello created a world in which fictional characters argue that they are more "real" than living human beings. x
  • 40
    Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan
    Bertolt Brecht continued the rebellion against Realism by using theatrical techniques to create a critical distance between audience and play. An examination of The Good Woman demonstrates how Brecht used this technique to critique capitalist society. x
  • 41
    Anna Akhmatova's Requiem
    Written in response to Russia's Yezhov Terror of 1937 and 1938, the poem Requiem describes a sick society in which the poet must speak for voiceless victims everywhere. Professor Voth explores the aesthetic and historical contexts that helped shape this poem. x
  • 42
    Kawabata Yasunari's Snow Country
    Adapting Western techniques to suit Japanese sensibilities, Yasunari created a Modernist work, using such techniques as a disciplined point of view and stream-of-consciousness in his story of a detached man and his love for two women. x
  • 43
    Faulkner—Two Stories and a Novel
    Using the short stories "A Rose for Emily" and "Wash," in addition to the novel As I Lay Dying, Professor Voth examines the literary achievements of William Faulkner, an author who sought to capture the "whole truth" of life in all its comedic, grotesque, and heroic glory. x
  • 44
    Naguib Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy
    The Arabs did not really have a novel tradition until the 20th century. In his career, Arab writer Naguib Mahfouz encompassed all of the novelistic traditions, from historical romances to Realist novels to experimental narratives. x
  • 45
    Achebe's Things Fall Apart
    Achebe's novel is a reaction against Western novelistic depictions of Africans, exemplified in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In this lecture, we examine this tale of a native people, the Igbo, and their heroic but flawed leader Okonkwo. x
  • 46
    Beckett's Plays
    In this lecture, we take up our first Postmodernist writer, Samuel Beckett. His works, including Endgame, Waiting for Godot, and Happy Days, illustrate Beckett's view that humankind lives in an absurd world which provides no clear definition of life's meaning. x
  • 47
    Borges's Labyrinths
    Our examination of Postmodernism continues with Jorge Luis Borges, whose comic, often magical stories attempt to express the untranslatable gap between reality and the human constructions of logic and language. x
  • 48
    Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories
    The final lecture considers Salman Rushdie's children's book about the importance of stories in our lives, and it closes with William Faulkner's idea that stories are one of the ways in which humans can not only endure, but may even prevail. x

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Your professor

Grant L. Voth

About Your Professor

Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College
Dr. Grant L. Voth is Professor Emeritus at Monterey Peninsula College in California. He earned his M.A. in English Education from St. Thomas College in St. Paul, MN, and his Ph.D. in English from Purdue University. Throughout his distinguished career, Professor Voth has earned a host of teaching awards and accolades, including the Allen Griffin Award for Excellence in Teaching, and he was named Teacher of the Year by the...
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Rated 4.8 out of 5 by 54 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Tour of Global Landmarks of Literature This is a good course, one whose main limitation is within its very framework. This course is an entire day's worth of material, forty eight lectures and twenty four hours covering forty seven different authors and their many works. He walks through many different literary traditions that are landmarks in the march of the development of literature throughout time and around the globe. While this will give you a general idea of the general trends, it is impossible to actually accomplish what he sets out to do. The less you know about world literature, the more you will get out of this course. The more you know about it, the more you will be continually frustrated by the absence of authors, works, and literary traditions that matter to you. As a tour, this is one of the best courses that one could expect. While you might change a few of the selections, for what they represent almost every major tradition is touched upon. He does not really discuss genres, but he does get lost in discipline and styles, and we end with a post-modern work of literature just as we began with the first recorded story. So where to go from here? While this course can certainly be valuable and enjoyable to you, as it was to me, it should be seen as a jumping off point. If this course kindled your passion for literature, there are a number of ways to go about that passion. The first would be to read those books and authors whose individual lectures peaked your interest the most. If certain genres and disciplines were more interesting than any one work, there are several different courses available to you. While Western Literature and authors make up the lion's share of this course, there is a lecture series twice as long as this, 84 lectures for the Western Literary Tradition. There are a couple of repeats along the journey, but it is a different experience more narrowly focused - if still very broad. Within that tradition spur on several other courses, such as the Classics of Russian Literature, The Tragedies of Shakespeare, the 19th Century British Poets, Twentieth Century American Literature, Ancient Greek Literature, and many more. I've just recently finished listening to literary courses on Science Fiction and Post-Modernism. Many of them are good, some are fantastic, and a couple are average. Good luck, and enjoy your journey. May 14, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Superb! I was very pleased to find this in my library. I have recommended it many friends and family. It is intelligently and thoughtfully compiled. The speaker on my first one (The History of World Literature) is obviously a worldly soul and well-rounded intellectual. His deliver and personal touches were excellent. If only more people found joy in this kind of knowledge the world would be such a different and more beautiful place (learning from history...). Gone would be so many of the extremist and irrational views; both at home and abroad. As the learned typically would rather share useful knowledge than destructive hate - the latter stemming from nothing more than foolish opinions, born of a lack of general knowledge. February 26, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great value Loved every bit of it. I am not an academic, the tone suited me fine. However, I would have appreciated a very brief text summary, outlining the printed works/authors referenced in the conference. Something along the line of "for further lectures" In particular, the spelling of the name of some authors is not obvious: it made it hard to find the right source. Thanks January 29, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by So good it made me sad when it ended! I have listened to over 100 Great Courses CD's and this course is in my top 5. I loved the professor's style of presentation and thought his ability to summarize each piece of literature and place it in an historical and cultural context was impeccable. Professor Voth was able to make even unfamiliar works accessible and interesting. My enjoyment of familiar and well-loved works was heightened by his comments and insights. I was motivated to read or re-read many of the works he included in this course. My interest level was so high I found myself going back and reviewing a lecture in the course book (something which admittedly I seldom do). I believe this course would have great appeal for a broad range of listeners. I really was very sad as I ejected the last CD. January 20, 2016
  • 2016-05-30 T13:14:28.582-05:00
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