Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday with Words: "House and wife and an ox for the plough"

This semester I’m taking a seven week-long class from Coursera on The Ancient Greeks. Check out the syllabus – it’s brutal.

This quote is from one of my assigned readings this week, a selection from Aristotle’s Politics, on the polis.  I’ve deleted a longish section because I wanted to focus on Aristotle’s description of the oikos, the household or family.

He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved…. 
Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says, 
        ‘First house and wife and an ox for the plough,’ 
for the ox is the poor man’s slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men’s everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas ‘companions of the cupboard,’ and by Epimenides the Cretan, ‘companions of the manger.’


  1. Is this your first Coursera course? I am assuming it is not done at your own pace. I would love to hear more about it.

    1. It's sort of at your own pace because the week's videos are uploaded at midnight Sunday and you have till Wednesday of the following week to get through the material take the test.

      If you complete all the work on time, and score 75% or better on the weekly tests you'll get a certificate of completion, but if you don't care about that you can take as long as you like with the material -- your membership and access to the class material doesn't expire.

      This is the second one I've taken. Last year I took Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, which was really good, but I simply could not keep up the pace -- the work was so hard. The only way I could understand things was to ask for explanations in my study group (they have a discussion forum and encourage people to participate in a study group), and they were very kind and helpful, but I was getting further and further behind and didn't like to keep asking about stuff everyone else finished a week or two earlier. For all I know, they didn't mind, but...

      That class is being offered again on a ten week schedule because lots of people had trouble with the pace, and I thought about trying again, but then I saw the Ancient Greek course and decided to do it again. We're on Week 2 now, but the first week is the Iliad and the Odyssey so if you wanted to take the class you could probably just watch the videos and catch up quickly.

    2. I look forward to hearing your review of this course when you are done. I'd never heard of Coursera before...


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