Curriculum - Turkey

Curriculum - Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

“This is what Arete is to provide - the enhancement of the self, so life can be measured independently. But can one be responsible unless they are part of the marketplace? Aristotle says, no. So we do not flee the city, but we walk to some extent alone through its streets.” -William Taylor

Reference Books

  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence
  • Art of the Byzantine Empire by David Talbot Rice
  • Europe and Islam by Hichem Djait
  • The Fall of Constantinople - 1453 by Steven Runciman
  • The Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross

**Map Assignments with Comments on Seminar by WMT **

A large portion of the evening was devoted to the map projects. Each student has developed a trip map that they will use when we are in various parts of Europe and the Middle East. It is self-constructed, carrying the names of the important contributors to history (good and bad) and the prime locations.

The young people were on top of this assignment. Their maps are filled with the names, locations. They were familiar with the identifications, too. Someone did want to place Lenin in Berne, not in Zurich. But Lenin did have secret meetings in Berne. It was in Zurich, however, where he left from for the Revolution.

When they visit Istanbul, Prague, Luxor, or Delphi, or Vienna, Rome or Zurich, they will have their notes on their personally sketched maps.

Here are the historical figures that were placed on the maps for this seminar:

People & Places

  • Napoleon in Egypt
  • Constantinople
  • Attaturk at Gallipoli
  • Berne
  • Homer
  • Carthage
  • Anaximander (the fragment)
  • Sicily
  • Heraclitis
  • Sardania
  • Wagner
  • Mauthausen concentration camp
  • Hadrian
  • Berne
  • Jung
  • Lake Geneva
  • Kafka
  • Route of the Odysseus
  • Einstein in Zurich, Berne
  • Calvin
  • Luther
  • Voltaire
  • Lenin in Zurich, Berne

Research Assignments

The students were instructed to search the web and look up the Ottoman Empire, Gallipoli and Ataturk, the Byzantine Empire, Constantine and the founding of Constantinople, Byzantine art (download one picture and bring it with you), Mistra (a marvelous Greek site near Sparta with Byzantine art (download one picture), locate the fall of Constantinople in 1452, identify certain sultans who were of the unusual, etc.

Book Assignments (each student is reading a book in November)

Here are a few comments from the seminar as the 2007 Arete students shared their progress:

Kristine told of how in Palace Walk the playboy husband is enjoying his nights out on the town in Cairo, while his obedient wife waiting at home.

Nick is reading Birds Without Wings and mentioned the Turkish village life with Moslems and Greeks living together (i.e., shortly before WW I and tragic Gallipoli).

Max told of the marriage of16 year old Sophia to the entrepreneur, Heinrich Schliemann, and the excavations at Mycenae, Ithaki and Troy coming up.

Jenny Marshall is well into The Agony and the Ecstasy with David having been moved into the city center.

Stefan is reading A Man, a book Matt Wilkinson, Arete '83, and Jenny LaPlante, Arete '93 and '95, found most worthwhile and exciting; it is gripping.

Jane spoke about the Unbearable Lightness of Being and how Kundera utilizes metaphors. She told of the Russian clamp down on Prague, how the people left, then they returned after living in Geneva.

Sheehan is reading Corelli's Mandolin. The village is coming alive with the cast of Greeks (e.g., the priest, the maiden, the animals); the large island just across from where we will be on Ithica.

Scattered Questions and Notes from WMT

Why did the scholars who brought philosophy and art to Florence and the Renaissance migrate there from Constantinople?

Why did Constantinople even have scholars to preserve the manuscripts of Aristotle and other ancient Greeks? What was their religion? Again, why did they migrate to Florence?

What benefits might come if Turkey is invited into the European community of nations? To Turkish people, women? Why are many Europeans against this? Are you for admission, or against it??????

When did Constantine found Constantinople. How long was it before Byzantium replaced Rome as a prime Mediterranean Empire?

What was a 93 year-old woman protesting in Istanbul this past week? And why was she acquitted?

What happened on the Fourth holy crusade from Western Europe to Constantinople? What were the crusades about? How is the Bush crusade to Iraq similar, or different?

Will this lead to an understanding between the West and Islam? Is there any creative leader who might lift the hate to reason?

How would you connect up Istanbul (Constantinople) to Vienna (Wein), Constantinople (Istanbul) to Rome (Roma), the Byzantine Greek Orthodox Church to Athens and Mistra (near Sparta)? Why do they LINK up?

Tell me about Jerusalem. There can be no peace without Jerusalem being shared by Moslem and Jew. America has been a relentless supporter of Israel. Will the apparent change in American leadership be different? History would not encourage this conclusion.

Why? Because both sides remain hung up on religion!

How many Moslems do you know?

Why did Constantinople have cultural advantages that the Islamic world was not experiencing? Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, nurtured it over the centuries in Greece, Rome, and Constantinople. In other words, the kids saw that knowledge was earned over time. Slowly.

A second prime in the student notes had to do with Christians who became atheists (or not religious) and did not know how to tell their families about their point of view. How they can feel rejected if they are honest. We had been discussing Lawrence of Arabia and how he could not view England the same way after living as an Arab in the Middle East. Nor could he become a Moslem.

He was stranded? I quoted Jesus --- "where can the son of man place his head".

The Arete 1991 trip became relevant when I told of Maggie Domke handing me a tape for the van music as we arrived at the great walls of Istanbul. There were bright lights, people in varied dress from all over the Middle East. I resisted letting any of them place their music in my tape deck. But Maggie said that I would approve.

I sang for the 2007 students, "Istanbul is Constantinople, is Istanbul.......nobody's business but the Turks".

While Jane discussed her impressions of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I added that a recent Kundera book told of how those who left Prague for up to twenty years are finding it difficult to go back and feel a part of their origins. This goes with that portion about Lawrence not being able to view England the same way with his Arab robes on.

Lawrence wrote that he became "stranded".

Troy and a Trojan

Many moments gripped us at Troy, and nearby Gallipoli. And not far down the coast of modern Turkey, on the side of a hill, rest the remains of a school where Aristotle taught. Arete performed a ritual with the help of Homer in 1991 on the ancient battlefield before the walls of Troy. A close friend of mine at USC had been an Olympian, of enormous endurance and character. Only 5’5” in height, this American hero died early of Parkinson’s disease. And so Arete, with the aid of Homer, built “little Max” a funeral mound out there on the battlefield of Achilles and Hector. The fact that the nickname for USC is the Trojans did not escape us. Nor that Aeneas by the pen of Virgil left from this burning city to found far away Rome.

So, along with Homer, and Burkert, the ancient ritual was repeated by Arete 1991. Rocks were carefully placed on what became a funeral mound for “little Max.” Several students read from the texts of scholars about our location and its place in the ancient world. We played Mozart’s “Requiem” before the young raced in honor of the courage and life of Max Truex. Upon completion of the ritual, the tractors with the farmers began to arrive.

A meaningful postscript? It was in the 1960 Olympic games in Rome that the Trojan, Max Truex, ran 6th in the 10,000 meter final.

Arete library --- “The Iliad of Homer” with translation by Richmond Lattimore, “The Odyssey of Homer” with translation by Richmond Lattimore, “The Aeneid of Virgil” translated by Rolfe Humphries, “Homer’s Landscapes” by J. V. Luce, “Schliemann of Troy” By David A. Traill, “The Greek Treasure” by Irving Stone, “Homer and the Heroic Tradition” by Cedric H. Whitman

A classroom in the clouds

Not far from Troy, maybe half an hour by van, columns from a 6th Century B.C. temple of Athena are scattered on the top of a hill that overlooks the Aegean sea and the distant Greek island of Lesbos. Immediately below the temple of the goddess, seemingly undisturbed for over two thousand or more years, rest the evidence of a classical school that once welcomed a rather famous visiting professor. While we would stop to remember Aristotle the next morning as we drove up from the petite port below, with the air so tranquil that breathing was inspired, it was that evening that we discussed the philosophical ideas of the great 4th Century B.C. Greek scholar.

It helped enormously to have the company of a book that an Arete veteran had sent me. The title was appropriately, “Aristotle: the desire to understand.” Without the author, Jonathan Lear, I don’t think we could have approached in depth the thought of Aristotle. And what we discovered was that Aristotle agreed with the Arete curriculum, that "the human mind plays not just in the measurement, but in the very existence, of time.”

We were off early the next morning up the steep road that would take us by the former classroom of Aristotle. As said, the air was pure, the morning idyllic. Thin clouds, mist, didn’t compromise the ethereal moment. Time was cloaked in mystery. I resisted for once the compulsion to keep driving, move toward our next destination. I pulled the van off to the side of the road and we got out. Across the sea was the island of Lesbos, just up the hill the gymnasium where one Aristotle taught.

Time froze.

Above the ancient school of Aristotle, a living relic celebrates the history and the inviting water below.

Arete library --- “Aristotle: the desire to understand” by Jonathan Lear, “Early Greek Thinking” by Martin Heidegger

The Ionian coast

A series of Arete classrooms reach down the Ionian coast along the western edge of Turkey. Out on the battlefield of ancient Troy, before the farmers with their tractors arrived, is where one of them resides. Acting out the funeral games that Homer told us about was a lifetime memory for those students. Those students? Yes, we held funeral games before the walls of ancient Troy more than one time. There was ’91 with the memory of the “little Trojan,” Max Truex, then ’99 and a longer run after building the funeral mound. Each young person was asked to run for someone that they known personally who had died. It was a very real ritual that morning.

We sweep forth some 3000 years for the third Arete classroom along the Ionian coast. This time we travel north of Troy, just across the Hellespont that Xerxes crossed with his Persian army in 480 B.C. The music from “A Thin Red Line” accompanied us by tape. You felt the senselessness of war, the morbid, inexplicable as the motion picture sound track was played in the van. And each student brought with them their memory of scenes from the movie “Galipoli” that they had seen before leaving California. Each one could picture those New Zealand lads struggling up the cliff and then racing into certain death from the machine guns of the Turkish soldiers.

Soft, tranquil waves barely touch the abrupt shore, grave upon grave told of the young soldiers who died in World War I because of this insane attack by the British. On 1999 Arete we identified where the “horse soldiers” went toward death from the beach. The mood was somber. There was no release from the tension between being and non-being, of their young lives that promised a future, and those thousands upon thousands who ended their existence at Galipoli.

Just as our discussion of Aristotle was held below his former campus on the slope of Assos, so did we cross the channel where the water from the Black Sea surged into the Aegean and returned to our motel for reflection in an outdoor restaurant. An Arete girl was asked to tell of the afternoon at Galipoli. The sun ended the day with brilliant, alarming red, orange and golden colors, for we knew that below the beautiful setting were the bodies of thousands upon thousands of young men who had been murdered by war. This Dory told of the senselessness with sensitivity and strength, strong words came forth from her lips. What made her presentation even more penetrating that night was an awareness that Dory was so timid, so unsure of herself, to even speak, offer an opinion at our early seminars some nine months before.

Within a few years her mother would die, way, way too soon. Way too young.

Arete library --- “Galipoli,” by video, “Birds Without Wings” by Louis de Bernieres, “The Trojan War” series by BBC, with Michael Wood narrating, “Smyrna 1922” by Marjorie Housepian Dobkin

Pre-Socratic philosophers

Turkey for modern travelers provides a favorable impression of the people, the visit to the vast Greco/Roman archaeological site at Ephesis, and for those sailing along the coast, the inlets and remote beaches where they snorkel and swim in the beautiful sea. For Arete it is the coast of the philosophers who preceded Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Known as the “pre-Socratic” gang, it was these thinkers of the 6th and 5th Centuries B.C. who profoundly raised the questions of existence.

For Arete and its mobile classrooms this has been an unfolding exploration. Western existentialists look back to Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides, however meager the fragments that hint of their thought. The most popular path to these early Greeks for the Arete students comes through Milan Kundera. In the “Unbearable Lightness of Being,” by book and motion picture, Kundera contrasts the heaviness of Being with the ethereal lightness of non-Being. It should not surprise Arete veterans that Martin Heidegger in “Early Greek Thinking” uses Nietzsche to introduce his exploration of Anaximander, Heraclitus and Parmenides. The hike along the Alpine trail and the journey down the Ionian coast are related.

Arete library --- “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera, “Voltaire’s Bastards” by John Ralson Saul, “Early Greek Thinking” by Martin Heidegger, “Report to Greco” by Nikos Kazantzakis, Nietzsche Chapter

Calls to prayer and a different religion

Our contact with Islam initially came in Turkey. The oldest mosque in Istanbul was only some 30 meters from the guest hotel window. The call to prayer entered our rooms with intimacy. The location was old Istanbul, below the enormous Blue Mosque and Agios Sophia. Our little mosque rested in what was then an old wooden village. Today the guest house is gone, small, expensive hotels have invaded the neighborhood.

On one of our afternoons in Istanbul in 1989 a couple of the girls had returned to their ground floor room early. And what they witnessed outside their window confirmed the ancient ritual of animal sacrifice that they had studied before the journey. We were in the city at the end of Ramadan. A monumental book, “Homo Necans,” with portions read before the trip, vividly describes what they witnessed from their room that afternoon. Alyssa and Marina were ecstatic when we returned to the guest hotel. They couldn’t wait to tell us that they had seen the ancient ritual acted out step by step only 30 or so meters away.

Alyssa remembers it this way --- “when the sacrifice began it was as if we were part of the ceremony. Definitely not tourists or mere onlookers. We knew what was going on and it was very exciting. Whole families were out and the man of the house was preparing to cut the head off of his best sheep. It took one swift blow. A woman was there taking the sheep's heart out. Blood was running down the cobblestone. The insides were then taken out and the sheep's feet were cut off and it was tied to a tree where the man skinned it. Later we were told that they had a big family dinner and ate the sheep. If any meat was left over they gave it to the poor. My mom cooks lamb on Easter, we had it this year, and like every year since that day in Turkey I can still see myself sitting on that window ledge watching that ritual.”

Excerpts from Marina --- “a vivid memory to be sure… the bloodletting slaughter of live animals. Large quantities of blood draining into the streets, into gutters and open drains all across the land. All Arête veterans understand that a description of a single day or a single event from one of our trips is only a mere whiff of the true experience. The individual and collective preparation for our journeys, the breadth of the curriculum, the distances we travel, the people we meet, the mental and physical highs and lows all contribute to the achievement.

It was a beautiful sunny day. Alyssa and I were alone at the hotel, relaxing, reading journaling. We heard voices and activity outside our window where there was a strip of green grass and a few trees. A Subaru pulled up with a whole family packed inside. It was amazing how many people filed out. A little girl in a pink dress caught my attention. It seemed to me, that they must have been coming from “church.” The sounds coming from the group were cheerful and excited.

One of the men went to the back of the car, opened the hatch and out jumped a large sheep. The women and children stood nearby as the men were busy digging, hanging ropes and organizing equipment. I was thoroughly confused, unable to piece together what was about to take place.

As quickly as the sheep had sprung from the car, its throat was slit and it slumped to the ground. I couldn’t turn away. I remember hearing cheers from the women and children. The animal was swiftly strung up by its hind legs to one of the trees; the testicles were removed and held up into the air while the men chanted. They were then buried along with several vital organs in the hole that had been prepared. The animal was stripped of its hide in one fell swoop, pulled down from the top and over its head like a sweater. I remember the sounds of the bones cracking when they removed the front hooves to pull the inside-out skin from the body.

I was horrified at this point and if that weren’t enough, several more vehicles had arrived and were preparing to repeat the ritual again and again. All told, five sheep were sacrificed outside our window, on the little strip of grass, on that beautiful day. I remember sitting in on the floor of the shower, running the water, cupping my hands over my ears in an attempt to drown out the sounds of the hacking and cracking. We had nowhere to run and no way to get away from the chaos.”

What a classroom!

Early in the morning on the day after the sheep were sacrificed, about 3:00 a.m., I heard the most beautiful pastoral prayer being sung over the old village. As “Homo Necans” had forecast, the demand for blood had been met. A grateful community felt the love of Allah and family under the tranquil poetry from the Koran sung by the muezzin across from the Guest House.

Walter Burkert, the amazing anthropologist who wrote “Home Necans,” says that “blood and violence lurk fascinatingly at the very heart of religion.” He writes that “the Old Testament covenant could come only after Abraham had decided to sacrifice his child” and Christianity through “the death of God’s innocent son.”

Perhaps Mel Gibson would be pleased with his attention to blood and sacrifice?

Just off the coast of Ionia (Turkey today), that fertile soil of such great early Greek thinkers as Heraclitis, Anaximander, Thales, Herodotus, are the modern Greek islands. On one of the smaller ones it is likely that the madman of “The Book of Revelations” forecast the collapse of the “evil” Roman empire and the cosmic victory of the bleeding Christ. “Apocalypse Now” didn’t first come by film in Vietnam and Cambodia, rather it arrived on the island of Patmos around 100 A.D.

In the patio of a quiet hotel we retained the view from earlier in the day before dinner. We had swam off the northern end of the island of John in sinless water in the late morning. The rocks below brought purity to the sea. The Aegean didn’t separate us very far from that pregnant coast of early Greek thinking.

Bougainvilleas of brilliant purple hovered over our pre-meal seminar.

Arete library --- "Homo Necans" by Walter Burkert