The Quest for Immortality in the Ancient World

Course Description

This course serves as an introduction to ancient humanity's musings on the nature of life and the afterlife, focusing particularly on the fascinating and often overlooked world of the ancient Middle East. Through reading, discussion and writing, we will explore a variety of profound works of ancient literature which grapple with many of the same existential questions we face today.

Over three weeks, we will study texts from a different civilization, starting with Mesopotamia (The Epic of Gilgamesh), followed by Egypt (The Pyramid Texts, The Harper Songs, The Dialogue Between a Man and His Soul), and ending with Israel (The Book of Ecclesiastes). While these texts certainly deal with heavy topics, you will also see that their clear-eyed perspective on the joys and sorrows of a finite life can be quite hopeful and liberating. Thus, in probing the depths of the human condition through these texts, remember that in surprising and unexpected ways, there is light on the other side.

Each week will begin with a brief introductory lecture, followed by the reading and discussion of the "life story" of a particular ancient monarch. The next three days will consist of a class discussion of the primary sources. Finally, each Friday will serve as a capstone where students will consider the work of modern interpreters of these texts collectively in class discussion and individually in a short response paper. The central expectation is that students should arrive to class with all the readings prepared and at least one question to help jumpstart the discussion. While the reading and writing loads are considerable, they are intended to provoke meaningful engagement with the material and simulate a typical college humanities course (the tradeoff is that there will be no exams for the course!).

Throughout this course, you will:
• Explore great texts from three civilizations of the ancient world (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel), gaining a better appreciation for their original context and their literary and philosophical conventions.
• Acquire a general understanding of the broader world of the ancient Middle East in which these texts were produced and circulated.
• Engage with modern academic interpretations of these ancient works, culminating in three response papers (c. 1,000-1,200 words each) in which you will evaluate and critique the claims being made about the texts for the particular week.
• Gain experience with the skills of close reading and classroom discussion which serve as the foundation of college humanities courses.

By the end of the course, you will not only have a better understanding of these ancient works of literature but will also have a better capacity to read and discuss authors old and new, a foundational skill for college humanities courses (and life in general!).


There are no specific prerequisites for this course, but prior experience with advanced history or literature courses (AP World, AP European History, AP English, etc.) will be beneficial.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: June 27, 2022 - July 15, 2022
Duration: 3 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 12:15P-3:05P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Jonathan Price
Course Number: 10187