Julia Chavez makes The Iliad relevant to 21st century students

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Julia Chavez opens the door to The Iliad

In these fast-paced days of Twitter, Facebook and other compressed communication, reading something the length of the 600-page Homeric poem, The Iliad, can seem epically overwhelming to students, says Julia Chavez, Ph.D., assistant professor of English. She calls reading the poem "a badge of honor" shared by generations of students.

Chavez was one of 20 faculty participants chosen by the Council of Independent Colleges and Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies to attend a summer seminar, "Ancient Greece in the Modern Classroom," in Washington, D.C.

The seminar helped her deepen her own grasp of the text and develop ways to show her students how The Iliad continues to be a poem of our times, she said. "Many of our students have grown up in a kind of "shame" culture (where saving face is important), have seen warfare first hand (in Iraq and Afghanistan), have aspirations to achieve greatness in their professional lives—or at least personal success— and have deep loyalties to friends and family members alike. For all of these reasons, they are not so very different from The Iliad’s main characters – Achilles, Ajax, Patroclus, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Helen, Priam, Paris, Hector and Andromache. Helping students recognize the universal elements within this Homeric epic is one important way to keep enduring classics alive in today’s college classroom."

At Saint Martin’s this year, Chavez will teach courses in college writing, Victorian literature and women’s literature. She also will co-teach courses on the Romantic Period and introductory fiction, centering on American fiction from the ‘50s and ‘60s.