Honors in the Aegean
Imagine discussing the influence of the Oracle of Delphi at Delphi. Or reading “Oedipus the King” in the theater at Epidaurus. Or debating Pericles’ vision of Athens at the National Gardens in Athens. That’s exactly what a group of Ogden Honors students did this summer as part of “Honors in the Aegean.” Led by Professional-in-Residence Drew Lamonica Arms and LSU Professor of English and Foreign Languages Michelle Zerba, students explored the world of ancient Greece through coursework that was adapted to the locations they visited.
“Honors in the Aegean is part of a long-term plan to offer more and varied international experiences for Ogden Honors Students,” Ogden Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle said. “We are planning to keep our program in Cuba going forward, and adding Ogden in Oxford next summer. Study abroad is a critical component of a good honors education.”
The group spent the first five days in Athens, where students visited famous centers of ancient Greece, such as the Acropolis and Agora, as well as the National Archeological Museum and the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art. The remainder of the trip was spent discussing and debating the works of Homer, Socrates, Sophocles, and Plato, among others, at over 12 landmarks, including Olympia, Epidauros, Delphi, Corinth, and the islands of Syros and Naxos.
“Since I first started teaching in the Honors College, I have had the good fortune to teach the literature of the ancient Greeks,” Arms said. “But teaching on site made the texts come alive to me in a way that I’d never experienced and that I’ll never forget.”
One class, in particular, stood out to Arms as especially memorable. “We had a sunset discussion of Plato’s Symposium sitting on rocks in front of a Temple of Apollo on the island of Naxos, and that was the most beautiful and profound discussion of the Symposium and its vision of what it means to love that I’ve ever had.”
Arms taught two courses for Honors credit: “Love and War in Ancient Greece” and “Leadership and Scholarship: Ancient Greek Models of Leadership.” Zerba offered two classical studies courses: “Ancient Greek Epic” and “Classical Drama.” Coursework spanned from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic Age – “about 1,000 years of culture,” Zerba said.
“Honors in the Aegean was designed to offer our most outstanding students and future leaders a journey into a civilization where democracy, philosophy, history, medicine, and drama were invented over two millennia ago,” Zerba continued. “The ancient Greeks are both foreigners and our close contemporaries. I wanted students to explore the richness of this heritage.”
Rising Ogden Honors College junior and kinesiology major Rachel Seidel said that what she learned during the program will stay with her for the rest of her life. “I learned so much about the history of ancient Greece that I can apply in the future, since it contributes to so much of modern society and politics.”
“My favorite site that we visited was Epidaurus,” Seidel continued. “The ancient healing center was the birthplace of medicine and, with a future career in medicine, I really enjoyed learning about it.”
Zachary Faircloth, LSU student body president and a rising Ogden Honors College senior, found Delos especially interesting. “The island in the center of the Aegean has no modern residents, but it’s populated by ancient ruins. We climbed to the top of the central peak from which we could see a 360 degree view of the Aegean Sea and surrounding islands.”
“The experience will always stick with me,” the electrical engineering and political science major said. “Learning the material at the place where it happened 2,000 plus years ago is truly inspirational. It’s hard not to remember that.
When asked what they hope students will take away from their time in Greece, both Arms and Zerba expressed their desire to see students grasp the country’s profound influence on modern life.
“I want students to see that the study of the ancient Greek world is engaging, deeply relevant to our time, and in need of preservation,” Zerba said. “I want to pass on my love of travel and my belief that through encounters with other cultures, we can find more imaginative ways of meeting the challenges we face on our technologically expanding planet.”
“Finally,” Zerba concluded, “Greece is now, as it has always been, on the margins of three major land masses. Positioned on the Mediterranean rim where Europe, Asia, and Africa meet in fluid and ever mutating exchanges, it is a place where we can think actively about globalization, migration, and diaspora.”
“I feel confident the students experienced a unique and profound immersion into ancient life and culture, and we had brilliant discussions on why the Greeks still matter today—in thinking about leadership, friendship, politics, love, war, justice, power, human nature, you name it, the Greeks had something to say about it, and we got a unique insight into their world,” Arms said.
Ogden Honors students agree that their time in Greece profoundly affected their personal views and perceptions. “It is so important to have a broad education and global perspective,” Faircloth said. “The experiences I gained in Greece will help make me a better leader and more globally engaged.”
“After immersing myself in Greek culture for a month, I realized that there is so much to be learned and experienced outside of the life we have in America,” Seidel said. “Despite the differences, I realized that at the core of it all, we are all the same.”