The Teaching Company
Perhaps I paid just enough attention in college to retain my love of learning. Or maybe my fascination with the law in law school rekindled a passion that had gone momentarily dormant while I used my college years to grow other areas of my person, like the social skills that came with joining a fraternity and the maturing responsibilities that came with ROTC. Either way, I've emerged from law school into the practice of law, and yet retain a vibrant interest in areas of learning from one end of the spectrum to the other, the sciences, the arts, the theoretical, and the practical. But where to get my fix?
I mentioned a couple weeks back that my daily commute (roughly 25 minutes each way) and my weekly return to Atlanta had created a block of 5-10 hours per week that needed to be filled by something other than mindless staring at the pavement ahead.
Back while I was in Charlottesville for the JAG Basic Course, my wife brought along my mail on one of her visits. Included in the pile of loan consolidation and credit card offers was a catalog from The Teaching Company, which claimed to offer college-level classes on a whole host of subjects that piqued my curiosity. I vaguely remembered seeing similar offers in the back of Popular Science type magazines, and few of the programs seemed to offer a level of quality that could trump my own reading of a good book.
But The Teaching Company seemed different, and with my newfound expanse of driving time (in which I obviously cannot read a good book), I thought I'd give one of their many courses a try. Fortunately, they have a large sale section, where every course is on sale at least once a year, so I could buy my trial course at a substantial discount.
After reviewing the options, I decided to go with the "Classical Mythology" course offered by Elizabeth Vandiver, a classics professor at Whitman College. I picked the class for a multitude of reasons: I love the Greeks and their mythology, and have ever since I read snippets of Bulfinch in high school; I will soon begin my journey through Homer, and a background in Greek myth will be of great help; and finally, because Professor Vandiver offers other classes that look appealing, including courses on Homer, Virgil, the Greek Tragedies, and Herodotus. If I like this class, I figured, I already know what to buy next.
I'm almost half way through the course, and it is fantastic. It consists of twenty-four 30 minute lectures:
Introduction What Is Myth? Why Is Myth? "First Was Chaos" The Reign of the Olympians Immortals and Mortals Demeter, Persephone, and the Conquest of Death The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Afterlife Apollo and Artemis Hermes and Dionysos Laughter-Loving Aphrodite Culture, Prehistory, and the "Great Goddess" Humans, Heroes, and Half-Gods Theseus and the "Test-and-Quest" Myth From Myth to History and Back Again The Greatest Hero of All The Trojan War The Terrible House of Atreus Blood Vengeance, Justice, and the Furies The Tragedies of King Oedipus Monstrous Females and Female Monsters Roman Founders, Roman Fables "Gods Are Useful" From Ovid to the Stars
As you can see, Professor Vandiver begins with several lectures establishing the means and methods of mythology, as well as its boundaries. She then goes into Greek creationism, using Hesiod's Theogony as the primary source, before devoting individual lectures to several of the key Olympian gods. The structure is good, her delivery is clear, and she ties the lectures back to previously covered material, so the learning is cumulative as the course progresses.
The quality of the recordings is also quite good, especially considering I bought the download version of the course, which allowed me to download the lectures in MP3 format and then put them on my iPod and/or burn them to CD. The download version was also the least expensive, and $35 seems an incredible bargain for 12 hours of top-notch academic lecture. All in all, I could not be happier with the quality of this course and I am brimming with the anticipation of choosing my next purchase.