Mount Holyoke College



History 301                                                                                                                                                                              Ms. Straw

Fall 2000                                                                                                                                                                                  302 Skinner

Office hours:                                                                                                                                                                   

Please call or email for an appt.                                                                                                                                                 413.536.8984







"You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice [to Roman gods]?"  And Felicitas replied, “Now it is I who suffers what I suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer for Him."


                            From The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Felicitas and Perpetua


"Is it true that self-sacrifice is the only thing that gives meaning to death?  To this question the warrior is obliged to reply `yes,' while knowing full well that his suicide mission has no meaning." 


                            Lieutenant Nagatsuka, a kamikaze pilot


                    *                                               *                                             *


     For course description, see accompanying "Questions to Ponder."

     This is a Capstone Course, meaning it challenges you to apply all the skills you have learned as historians thus far.  The course specifies that we have cross-cultural comparisons, and use interdisciplinary methods.  Finally, we must come to appreciate how this issue is relevant to our present era.  We shall be examining many examples of martyrdom in western cultures, and compare them with Japanese culture.  Our approach utilizes anthropology and psychoanalytic theory as well as history to help us understand the problem of martyrdom from many perspectives.  We will end the course with a consideration of various modern martyrs.




1.  Active preparation of the sources, and active participation in class discussion.  The quality as well as the quantity of your remarks matter. (!!!) Come to class with at least four points and/or questions you wish to make to the class about the reading material.  This is a significant percentage of your grade.


2.  Two oral reports (about 8-10 minutes long).  One report will be a chapter from The Nobility of Failure, in most cases.  The second should ideally relate to your seminar topic.  For class, write a critique of your article, or chapter (about 3 pages, single spaced).  Get your copies made in the History Department before class to distribute to us.  Recommended:  practice your presentation with a roommate to make certain your points are clear;  time your presentation. 


3.  One final paper about ten to twelve pages in length.  This paper is to be a synthetic work in which you apply what you have learned in the course in interpreting your primary document(s), or topic.  You have two options.  You may center your paper on a primary document, or documents touched on in the course and do a deeper analysis and interpretation of the problem.  Or, you may choose to investigate an example of modern martyrdom.   This option will require more research, particularly in modern newspapers and the few books that may exist on your subject.  Your paper should be about ten to twelve pages in length. ROUGH DRAFTS MUST BE TURNED IN BY WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22nd. THE FINAL DRAFT IS DUE THE LAST DAY OF FINALS, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21ST at 12:00 p.m.


4.  Attendance of a lecture, “Recapturing the Past in Late Antiquity” by Glen Bowersock (Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton) on Thursday, 19 October 4:15.  Place to be announced.





Homer, The Iliad (Penguin). 

Plato, The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin).

Sophocles, The Theban Plays (Penguin).

Stories from Livy,  ed. by Roger Nichols (Cambridge).

Ambrose, On Virginity (Toronto: Peregrina Publishing).

Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure (Noonday).

Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, tr. William Scott Wilson(Kodansha International, n.d.).

Shusaku Endo, Silence (Taplinger).


For purchase through the History Department:

Course Packet

Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (Houghton Mifflin).




Sacrificing the Self:  Perspectives on Martyrdom, ed. Margaret Cormack (forthcoming Oxford University Press).




1.  Monday, 11 September:  Introduction


      Begin reading Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, L. Takeo Doi’s article, “Amae:  A Key Concept for Understanding Japanese Personality Structure,” (packet) and Endo's novel, Silence.  We will make comparisons between Japanese culture and Western culture throughout the course and these works give you a basic overview of Japanese culture.  You should definitely have these sources finished by 27 November. 



2.  Monday, 18 September:  Western Codes of Honor; Altruistic Death



       Homer, The Iliad.  At minimum, read chapters 1, 6, 9, 16-24.  If possible, read the whole book.  Your course packet contains a handy outline of  The Iliad, and topical notes flagging specific passages of interest.


       Report(s):  Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens:  A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1950), Chapter 3, "Play and Contest as Civilizing Functions," 46-75; "Play and War," 89-104.


       Chapter I of The Nobility of Failure.



3.  Monday, 25 September:  Honor and Gender



      Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonnus and Antigone 

      Julian Pitt-Rivers, The Fate of Shechem: of the Politics of Sex.  Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1977), ch. 1:  "The Anthropology of Honour," 1-17.


      Report:   Jan Bremmer, “Scapegoat Rituals in Ancient Greece,” Harvard Journal of Classical Philology 87 (1983): 299-320.  


     Chapter II of The Nobility of Failure.


4.  Monday, 2 October:  Death for a Principle


      Reading:  Plato, The Apology and Crito


      Report(s):  R. G. Frey, "Did Socrates Commit Suicide?" Philosophy 53 (1979):106-8; Gregory Vlastos, "Socrates on Political Obedience and Disobedience," Yale Review 63 (1974):517-534.


      Chapter III of The Nobility of Failure



     **************OCTOBER 9 – MIDSEMESTER BREAK***********



5.  Monday, 16 October:  The Politics of Desperation


      Euripides, Iphegenia at Aulis

      From Martin S. Bergmann, In the Shadow of Moloch, The sacrifice of children and its impact on Western religions (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1992); Prelude and Chapter I:  The Psychology of Sacrifice, 1-49 (in packet). 


       Movie:  Iphegenia by Michael Cacoyannis.



6.  Monday,  23  October:  Roman Honor and Proto-martyrs



      Stories from Livy

      Section on Roman honor and the gladiator, packet, pp. 39-59.


      Report(s):   Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Cato and Roman Suicide," Greece and Rome 33 (1986):64-77; 192-202; Henry Wheatland Litchfield, "National Exempla Virtutis in Roman Literature," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 25 (1914):1-74.


      Chapter IV of The Nobility of Failure


      PBS Video:  The True Story of the Roman Arena



7.   Monday, 30 October:  Stoic philosophy and voluntary death




       Epictetus, The Enchiridion

       Seneca, Letter 24 and 70; Epictetus selections from Discourses (packet)


       Report(s):  Anton J. L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide:  Self-killing in Classical Antiquity (London and New York:  Routledge, 1990), Chapter 3, "Causae Moriendi," 79-130, and 6, "Philosophers and Theologians," 179-188.


      Chapter V of The Nobility of Failure





8. Monday, 6 November:  Jewish Traditions



      Genesis 22; Abraham's sacrifice (or binding) of Isaac;      

      4 Maccabees

      Selections from Josephus, The Jewish Wars

      Boyarin and Barton, “Killing the Kids” (all are in the packet)


      Report(s): from Bergmann, In the Shadow of Moloch, Chapter 4:  The Significance of the Sacrifice of the Firstborn for the Formation of the Jewish Religion, 91-115; or Chapter 5:  "From the Sacrifice of Isaac to the Sacrifice of Christ."


     Chapter VI of The Nobility of Failure.



10.  Monday, 13 November:  Christian Martyrs



      Origen, Exhortation to Martyrdom

      The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas (both in packet)


       Reports:  Edmund Leach, "The Logic of Sacrifice," in Anthropological approaches to the Old Testament, ed. Bernhard Lang, Issues in Religion and Theology 8 (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1985).


      Chapter VII of The Nobility of Failure. 



11.  Monday, 20 November:  Virgins and Martyrdom; The changing meaning of martyrdom


[Review your sources. Note how many martyrs have been virgins.]



       Ambrose of Milan, On Virginity

       From packet:

       Jerome, Selections from Letters and Against Jovinian

       Augustine, On Lucretia from The City of God, bk 1.

       Augustine, Epistle 166 to Jerome (Why Herod’s victim’s are martyrs)


       Report:  Jerome’s Letter 22 to Eustochium on Virginity and Patricia Cox Miller, “The Blazing Body:  Ascetic Desire in Jerome’s Letter to Eustochium,” in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 1 (1993):21-45.


       Chapter VIII of The Nobility of Failure.



12.  Monday, 27 November: The Japanese code of Honor and attitude toward death



      [Benedict should be read by now.]


       Reports:  John Blacking, "Towards an Anthropology of the Body," 1-25; Andrew Strathern, "Why is Shame on the Skin," 99-110, in The Anthropology of the Body, ed. by John Blacking (London:  Academic Press, 1977).


      Chapter IX of The Nobility of Failure.    


13.   Monday, 4 December: Death for the Emperor



       Chapter X of The Nobility of Failure, "The Kamikaze Fighters"

       [Endo should be read by now.]


       Report(s): L. Takeo Doi, The Anatomy of Dependence, 1-64; Yoshida Mitsuru, Requiem for Battleship Yamato, tr. Richard H. Minear (Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 1985).




14.  Monday, 11 December:  Presentation of Projects. 


       Prepare a two-to-three page synopsis of your project.  Have it copied for the class in the History Department.  Come prepared to talk about your projects to the class.



FINAL PAPERS ARE DUE DECEMBER 21, 12:00 P.M. (under the door of my office)