John Notes for Western Lit 101

The Odyssey: A hairy guy who yells a lot floats around in a boat.

Oedipus the King: A guy marries a girl a little too much like the girl who married dear old dad. (When this play opened at the Viennese National Theatre in 1901, Freud, in attendance, died of an asthma attack.)

The Apology of Socrates: Socrates feels bad. He didn’t mean to do it. Plato made him do it.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses: More people than you can shake a stick at get mysteriously transformed into … well, sticks.

Dante’s The Divine Comedy: A guy in a funny hat visits Hell and acts rude. We follow him into the pits of unbearable agony, which lasts right up until the moment we close this book and go see who’s hanging out at the college shop.

Don Quixote: A skinny old Spanish guy goes nuts and rides around being hilarious. (This really is the funniest book ever written. A must read. Get the Samuel Putnam translation.)

Goethe’s Faust: A guy who over-intellectualizes everything sells his soul for a chance to have sex. A lesson for college students everywhere.

War and Peace: Guys go crazy killing each other. Guys go crazy over women. Peace is elusive.

Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich: Someone named Frank Boltosky croaks. Kidding! What really happens is that Ivan Illyich, whom everyone thinks is dead, suddenly leaps from his bed, and declares that from then on he will dedicate his life to aerobic fitness. Three days later he is killed when his overcoat gets caught in a threshing mill. Sad, in a pointless kind of way.

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: A guy turns into a cockroach the size of a sofa, and spends all his time in his room sulking about it. His family has trouble adjusting.

Related/follow-up post: John Notes for “Introduction to Western Philosophy.”

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  • Aren't you, like, a freshman in college?

  • Judy

    Hysterical. I especially liked the write up for The Death of Ivan Illyich and The Metamorphosis. I'm at work now, and laughing out loud. Thank goodness no one heard me. Thanks for the chuckle, John. It does a heart good.

  • FreetoBe

    Sorry, that should read Divine Comedy

  • That's hysterical. My son, who is a junior in high school (and taking AP English Lit) had to read "The Scarlet Letter" over the summer. I read it with him (since it had been years)….I had forgotten what a great book it is. I sure do not remember having to read about 15 books during my junior year of high school!

    I have never read "Don Quixote" – but, think I might add it to my readling list now! 🙂

  • Can't WAIT til tomorrow's reading!! If that was a teaser that you aren't going to follow through on I will be most disappointed. Made my day, John, made my day 🙂

  • arlywn

    would have been much funnier had I actually heard of some of these. But The Odyssey and Don Quixote are so dead on. Great post… cant wait for tomorrows

  • FreetoBe

    And then the “possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

    More on Miley & Her New Guy”

    which has *everything* to do with your…discussions… of The Metamorphosis and Dante’s Devine Comedy….

  • My sophomore year of college I took the Golden Age of Greece and a class on Ancient Rome as well. I don't think I have ever read as much as I did that semester…as a matter of fact I was to read the City of God, didn't get finished with it, read all of the chapter titles and made and a on the test…what does that say?!?!

  • That you went to Harvard.

  • tavdy

    William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Everybody dies (except the King, who's dead already).

    Geoffrey Chaucer's The Miller's Tale: A young wife has an affair, a fop gets farted on, a young student gets a burnt backside, and a gullible old cuckold falls from the roof in a bath-tub.

  • Wait a sec Tavdy, my 10-year-old's reading Chaucer. Waiting for him to give me the gist.

    They grow up so fast these days.


  • arlywn

    actually, I'm graduating in Feb. Guess how much that says about NC's school system. lol

  • John's Notes on I'm Okay, You're Not: Loving 'em is better than selling 'em.