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History Department
Medieval History Syllabus

History 253 The Medieval Church

History 301 Martyrdom as Social Protest: Resistance Sumission and Honor

History 351Medieval Monasticism


History Department

Medieval Sourcebook

Martyrdom as Social Protest:
Resistance Sumission and Honor

"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 that suffer 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 Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity

"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.

Courses Requirements

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). Ideally, the second should relate to your seminar topic. For your class presentation, write a critique of your article (about 3 pages, single spaced). Get your copies made in the History Department before class to distribute to us. Recommended: practice with a roommate to make certain your points are clear; and time yourself!

3. One final paper centering on a primary document, or documents. 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). This is not meant to be a research paper. Your paper should be about ten pages in length. ROUGH DRAFTS MUST BE TURNED IN BY Friday, November 22nd. THE FINAL DRAFT IS DUE THE LAST DAY OF FINALS, Friday, December 20 at 12:00 p.m.

Books Available for purchase at the Odyssey Bookstore

Shusaku Endo, Silence (Taplinger).
Homer, The Iliad (Penguin).
Plato, The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin).
Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure (Noonday).
Stories from Livy, ed. by Roger Nichols (Cambridge).
Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca (Norton).
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, tr. William Scott Wilson(Kodansha International, n.d.)
Sophocles, The Theban Plays (Penguin).
Ruth Benedict, The Chyrsanthemum and the Sword (Meridian).

For purchase through History Department:
Course Packet

You will also need a Bible with an Old and New Testament. There should be several copies in the library. Use one with an accurate translation.

Schedule of Class Meetings

1. Monday, 9 September: Introduction

Begin reading Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword; read Endo's novel, Silence carefully. 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 them finished by 25 November.

2. Monday, 16 September: Western Codes of Honor; Altruistic Death

Reading: Homer, The Iliad. At minimum, read chapters 1, 6, 9, 16-24. If possible, read the whole book. Follow the outline of events provided, and pay special attention to the topical notes provided.

Reports: Roger Caillois, selections from Man, Play and Games trans. Meyer Barash (New York: Free Press, 1961) or 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: Prince Yamato Takeru , 4th c. legend.

3. Monday, 23 September: Honor and Gender

Reading: Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonnus and Antigone

Julian Pitt-Rivers, The Fate of Shechem or 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," .

Chapter II of The Nobility of Failure: Yorozu, the Emperor's Shield, 587 CE.

4. Monday, 30 September: Death for a Principle

Euripides, Iphegenia at Aulis

Report: 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: Price Arima: The Poet, 658 CE.

5. Monday, 7 October: The Politics of Desperation

Reading: Plato, The Apology and Crito

Movie: Iphegenia by Michael Cacoyannis.

6. Monday, 14 October ************* MIDSEMESTER BREAK***********

7. Monday, 21 October: Roman Honor and Proto-martyrs

Reading: Stories from Livy; handouts on Roman honor and the gladiator.

Report: Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Cato and Roman Suicide," Greece and Rome 33 (1986):64-77; 192-202. [Or 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: Sugawara No Michizane, thedeified scholar-poet of plum blossoms. 901 CE

PBS Video: The True Story of the Roman Arena

8. Monday, 28 October: Stoic philosophy and voluntary death

Epictetus, The Enchiridion
From The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, ep. 70
From course packet: Seneca, Ep. 24, Epictetus selections from Discourses

Reports: 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: Minamoto No Yoshitsune, "Sympathy for the Lieutenant," 1185 CE.

9. Monday, 4 November: Jewish Martyrdom

Genesis 22: The binding of Issac, or his sacrifice?
4 Maccabees (in some Bibles, listed as 2 Maccabees)
Selections from Josephus (packet)
Boyarin and Barton, "Killing the Kids" (packet)


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. (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"; Sidney Hoenig, "The Sicarii in Masada--Glory or Infamy?" Tradition 11 (1970):5-30.

Chapter VI of The Nobility of Failure: Kusunoki Masashige, seven samuari lives for the nation, 1331 CE.

(note change in schedule 11 and 18 have been switched)

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

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

Ambrose of Milan, On Virginity
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)
Origen, Homily 27 on Numbers
[all in packet]

Chapter VIII of The Nobility of Failure: Oshio Heiachirao, popular leader betrayed by the populace, 1868 CE.

11. Monday, 18 November: Christian Martyrs

Origen, Exhortation to Martyrdom and The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (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: Amakusa Shira, Chrstian persecuted by Togagazas, 1638 CE.

Rough drafts due this Friday, November 22.

12. Monday, 25 November: The Japanese code of Honor and attitude toward death

Hagakure (pages to be assigned)
[Endo, Silence]

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).

Takeo Doi, "Amae: A Key Concept for Understanding Japanese Personality Structure" (in packer)

Chapter IX of The Nobility of Failure: Saigo Takamori: the Japanese Geogrge Washington, 1871.

13. Monday, 2 December: Death for the Emperor

Reading: Chapter X of The Nobility of Failure, "The Kamikaze Fighters," 1944.
Requiem for Battleship Yamato

Report(s): 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, 9 December: Presentation of Projects.

Prepare a one-to-two 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.

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