Nice to see 'non-professional' Classics organizations getting some press coverage ... this from Seattle Times:
While many people were at home watching modern Greeks cheer on athletes at the Athens Olympics, a few preferred to sit in a basement meeting room at the Good Shepherd Center, engrossed in a contest between two ancient Greeks.
Their teacher Alan Rawn had just posed the question: Who do you prefer as the greater hero: Achilles, the brave warrior in "The Iliad;" or Odysseus, the shrewd sailor wending his way home in "The Odyssey"?
While most of us haven't pondered such a question since high school (if we ever did), Rawn's adult students and fellow members of the Northwest Classics Society relish such debates. These are not erudite snobs, nor experts, but "regular" people. And though it may not be a fashionable pursuit these days, they're happy to take a break from TV, the Internet and other modern diversions, and plunge into dusty poetic yarns spun in ancient Greece some 2,000 years ago — for no reason other than pure enjoyment.
Hunched over their well-thumbed translations of Homeric texts, the students in Rawn's August class on "The Odyssey" voiced strong opinions on the two mythic figures.
Linda Hill of Bothell voted for Odysseus because "he's a husband, and a father, and a warrior and a statesman."
But Rawn pointed out that many ancient Romans considered the fabled Greek sailor a "scurrilous, conniving, out-for-himself politician." He added, with a chuckle, "Whether you prefer 'The Iliad' or 'The Odyssey' says a lot about you."
It would be hard, though, to pigeonhole the scores of people who have spent their free time taking Rawn's evening courses. It's a varied lot, as are those who've joined the Northwest Classics Society (NCS) to take advantage of the organization's lectures, book groups, movie nights and other activities (including its twice-a-year solstice parties).
Hill, for instance, is a middle-age high-school chemistry instructor who chose to take a class on Dante's "Inferno" with Rawn, "because both of my kids were reading and learning all this stuff that I wished I had known."
Trey Gorden, a young technical writer at Boeing, also got hooked on the classics through Rawn's courses. And joining Gorden and Hill in the "Odyssey" discussion were an accountant, a special-education teacher and others working in professions far removed from the seemingly rarified world of Great Books.
That was just what Rawn hoped for when he began teaching his seminar-style classes through the Experimental College of University of Washington in the mid-'90s.
"These aren't for credit, so you don't have to worry about passing tests and doing papers," Rawn explains. "They're just about reading and discussing these exquisite works of literature. To me, that's one of the best things you can do. It's really entertaining."
Hill, active in NCS for about two years, agrees. "It always surprises me when people don't enjoy this. It's just so much fun to have a bunch of people who are eager and open to learning new things, reading the same books and talking about them together."
She also appreciates the society's diversity: "This is one of the only groups I've been part of that's not one demographic. We've got male and female, single and married, young and old."
James Clauss, chairman of the Department of Classics at University of Washington, sees the value of Rawn's informal approach to heady tomes.
"I think it's great," says Clauss. "He's making them accessible to some of the people we don't reach."
Rawn's teaching style may strike some as unconventional. Openly opinionated, he's an avid debater and provocateur — egging others on to puzzle out more enigmatic passages of a text and engage in friendly arguments with him over interpretation.
But Rawn's credentials as a classicist are solid.
A fifth-generation Seattle native, he first encountered Homer as a grade-schooler reading an illustrated children's version of "The Iliad." Later, while attending Colorado College, he went to Greece on a study-abroad program and became enthralled by modern and ancient Greek language and literature.[more]