Ancient to Medieval Political Theory

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Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description

This is an upper division course in ancient and medieval political thought. Through analysis of major works of ancient and medieval political theory, this course examines the formation of social and political thought from approximately fifth century Greece through twelfth century Europe. This is a period of history marked by the development of fundamental ideas of politics and political theory that comprise our contemporary politics. The course materials address ideas such as democracy, freedom, the responsibilities of political power, the place of ambition, the role of justice, and the meaning of the good life. By reading key works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, and Aquinas, this course will examine some of the most central and (in my opinion) important questions concerning how we live--and make sense of--our lives today. What does it mean to live a good life? What is the best form of government? What is justice? What is the difference between knowledge and opinion? These are just some of the questions we will consider this term

Course Objectives:

  1. Introduce students to founding ideals, concepts, and debates of ancient Greek and medieval European political thought.
  2. Cultivate students' ability to critically interpret course materials through writing and speaking.
  3. Foster students' ability to relate the theoretical history of modern and contemporary thought to current political and social issues.
  4. Deepen students' understanding of the moral implications of exercising political power.
  5. Develop students' ability to write essays that 1) present a problem to be addressed, 2) express the student's interpretation of course materials, and 3) support that interpretation with appropriate arguments and evidence.

Course Policies

Attendance and Format

I expect students to attend all lectures, ask questions, and participate in course discussions and writing groups. While I encourage the sharing of lecture notes, I do not make my lectures available on the internet, and I discourage using any professional note-taking service.1 This class will be run as a combination lecture and seminar emphasizing the active participation of the students in the course. You are expected to read the materials before coming to class, and be prepared to participate in class discussions.

Missed Exams and Late Assignments

I do not permit make-up exams and late assignments. I recognize, however, that real life exigencies arise which may oblige me to waive, on a case by case basis, this general rule. There are two mandatory conditions you must fulfill for me to grant such a waiver: 1) if you know beforehand that you will miss a class, exam, assignment, writing group meeting, etc., you must contact me about your absence at least one full day prior to the class, exam, assignment, writing group which you will miss, and you must provide me with some written, objective verification of your proposed excuse. 2) If you become violently ill on the day of an exam, or assignment, you must provide me with either a doctor's note, or demonstrate that you took some action to combat the debilitating effects of your illness. If you did not take such action, then you are well enough to come to class.

I will reduce the grade of all late assignments, including rough drafts for peer review meetings, one full letter grade from the final grade for that assignment. This means if you fail to submit a completed rough draft for peer review meetings, I will subtract a full letter grade from your final essay grade for that assignment.

Cheating and Plagiarism: University of the Pacific Honor Code

University of the Pacific has a code of academic conduct which prohibits cheating and plagiarism.2 I expect all students to uphold this code of conduct. To clarify your understanding of cheating and plagiarism, cheating is the following:

Cheating is the willful giving or receiving of an unauthorized, unfair, dishonest, or unscrupulous advantage to another. Cheating may be accomplished by any means whatsoever, including, but not limited to, the following: fraud, duress, deception, theft, talking, signs, and gestures. Attempted cheating is also considered cheating. Examples of cheating that are not tolerated include, but are not limited to, the following:
  1. Copying graded assignments from another student or giving one's work to be copied or used by another student for credit.
  2. Working together on a take-home assignment when not specifically permitted by the instructor.
  3. Looking at another student's paper during an examination or allowing a student to look at one's paper or giving answers to another during an examination.
  4. Looking at text or notes during an examination when not specifically permitted by the instructor.
  5. Doing homework, taking an exam, or writing a paper for another student.
  6. Using any technological/communication tool not authorized by the faculty during an exam, such as a cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), calculator, pager, and laptop.3

Plagiarism is the following:

Plagiarism involves presenting as one's own, the work, or the opinions of someone else without proper acknowledgement. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:
  1. Failing to give credit for ideas, statements of facts, or conclusions derived by another author; Failure to use quotation marks when quoting directly from another, whether it is a paragraph, a sentence, or part thereof; Failure to properly cite other's work.
  2. Submitting a paper purchased or obtained from a "research" or term paper service.
  3. Submitting a paper obtained from an internet resource.
  4. Giving a speech or oral presentation written by another and claiming it as one's own work.4

Students caught cheating or plagiarizing their work will receive an F (scored mathematically as a 0) on that assignment. Also, student caught cheating or plagiarizing will be referred to the student disciplinary committee.

Students with Disabilities

The University of the Pacific is committed to the goal of providing qualified students an equal opportunity to attain college education regardless of disability. To reach that goal, Pacific will make efforts towards meeting reasonable requests for services and accommodations to students with disabilities. To that end, please notify me about any special needs you may require during the first weeks of the semester. Students requesting accommodations due to a disability should provide me with an accommodations request letter from the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities.


Final grades will be calculated according to the following scale: A > 92.4%, A- > 89.4%, B+ > 87.4%, B > 82.4%, B- > 79.4%, etc. In the event you believe your work was not evaluated fairly please bring your concerns to my attention. I will re-grade your assignment and issue a new grade. However, I reserve the right to lower your grade if I believe I scored your work too high the first time. If after re-grading your work, you still believe you were evaluated unfairly, you may take your concerns to the Chair of the Political Science department.

Please save a data or hard copy of all work you submit until you receive a grade for the course. Essays occasionally become misplaced, electronic grade files sometimes become corrupted or inadvertently erased. It is your responsibility to keep a record of all work submitted to protect yourself against such unfortunate events. In some instances, with the student's permission, I may ask to retain copies of student work to assess how the learning objectives of the course are being met.

Grammatical and Spelling Errors

"It is socially unacceptable to submit written work with an annoying level of error. You may damage yourself irrevocably in business and professional life if you do so. You might as well learn the habits of careful editing and proofreading now while you are in college."5

I know of job search committees, personnel managers, and supervisors, who have not hired, not promoted, and even fired individuals because of spelling and grammatical errors in their writing. To help you learn to proofread and edit your written work I will place an X in the margins next to lines of text that contain errors. You are responsible for finding, and correcting, those errors. Your grade will remain unrecorded until most of the errors are found and corrected.

Email and Course Communication

    • I respond to student email in a timely fashion, but not immediately. I do not check my email daily, so please do not expect an instantaneous response. For example, if you email me on Saturday night with a pressing question, please do not expect a response until Monday.

Course Materials

This course will draw from primary texts of political theory, journal articles, as well as newspaper and magazine articles. Be forewarned, the reading for this course is often dense and difficult. Please allow yourselves the time to complete and think about the reading before coming to class. I have ordered the following books for this course, available at the university bookstore:

Required Books

  1. The Oresteia Aeschylus 0226307786
  2. Sophocles One: Three Tragedies Sophocles 0226307921
  3. History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides 0140440399
  4. The Republic of Plato (Bloom Translation) Plato 0465069347
  5. The Last Days of Socrates Plato 0140449280
  6. The Politics Aristotle 0226026698
  7. The Republic and the Laws Cicero 0192832360
  8. The City of God Augustine 0521468434
  9. The Confessions Augustine 0192833723
  10. St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics Aquinas 0393952436

Course Requirements

  • Four Essays
  • Essay 1 15%
  • Essay 2 20%
  • Essay 3 25%
  • Essay 4 25%
  • Participation 15%

Four Essays

During the semester you will write three 5-7 page essays, and a 6-9 page fourth essay in lieu of a final exam. I will hand out the specific requirements for these essays at least 2 weeks prior to the exam date. The exam must be typed, double spaced, in 12 point font with 1" margins. Please include a cover page with your name, and the title of the essay.

Participation & Preparation

I expect students to do the reading, and prepare to discuss themes and ideas from the reading on the date it is assigned. I will call on students randomly throughout the semester. Just showing up to class is not enough to merit a passing participation grade.

Ancient to Medieval Political Theory is a lecture-seminar class. That means it is not just a lecture where students passively sit and absorb information from an instructor. Discussion is the central pillar upon which this course is built. Therefore, participation from everyone in the room is crucial, and constitutes a significant portion of your final grade in the class. The following scale describes what I expect from students in order to earn the associated participation grade:

Daily Participation (all characteristics are not necessarily required to achieve grade):

  • A Student frequently participates by contributing incisive questions or insightful observations on the course reading, or general topic under discussion. Student does not dominate class discussion. Student is attentive and intellectually engaged, and displays a constructive attitude, and supportive responses to other students' ideas. Student is always prepared for class by having completed the assigned reading and written work.
  • B Student is usually prepared and attentive, but does not consistently contribute to class discussion. Student responds well when asked a question directly but hesitates to volunteer his or her own opinion. Student completes written work minimally, but without critical thought, or substantively engaging the course material.
  • C Student is seldom prepared, occasionally distracted, asleep, or otherwise disengaged. Student may interrupt and/or de-rail discussion through inappropriate remarks or humor; student may blather on about the subject under discussion, but show no real depth of understanding, or clearly not have done the reading. Student may be overly aggressive, or unable to respond satisfactorily to instructor's and peer's questions; student may occasionally do work from other classes, write notes (as opposed to take notes), send text messages, do crossword puzzles, check cell phone calls, browse the internet, socialize with classmates, or engage in other uncooperative behavior during discussion.
  • D Student engages in intensified "C" behavior to the point of creating a consistently detrimental presence in the class.
  • F Students who have serious attendance problems, in addition to a lack of engagement with the course will earn a grade of "F" for participation.

Course Schedule

(Subject to revision)

All required reading should be completed by the class for which it is assigned

Introduction: The Place of Political Thought in Political Science and Politics

  • Week I
    • Reading: Begin reading Aeschylus, The Oresteia: Greek Tragedy
  • Week II
    • Reading: Aeschylus, The Oresteia
  • Week III
    • Reading: Sophocles, Oedipus the King, Antigone
    • Assignment: Rough draft of Essay #1 Due - exchange in class
  • Week IV
    • Reading: Sophocles, Oedipus the King, Antigone
    • Assignment: Essay #1 Due at the beginning of class

The Peloponnesian War

  • Week V
    • Reading: Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
  • Week VI
    • Reading: Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
    • Assignment: Revised Essay #1 Due
  • Week VII
    • Reading:
    • Assignment: Rough Draft Essay #2 Due (exchange in class)
  • Week VIII
    • Reading: Plato, The Last Days of Socrates
    • Assignment: Essay #2 Due
  • Week IX
    • Reading: Plato, The Republic.
  • Week X
    • Reading: Plato, The Republic
    • Assignment: Optional Revised Essay #2 due
  • Week XI
    • Reading: Aristotle, The Politics
    • Assignment: Rough Draft of Essay #3 due
  • Week XII
    • Reading: Aristotle, The Politics
    • Assignment: Essay #3 due
  • Week XIII
    • Reading Cicero
  • Week XIV
    • Reading: Augustine
    • Assignment: Optional revision of Essay #3 due
  • Week XV
    • Reading: Aquinas
  • Week XVI
    • Reading: Aquinas
    • Assignment: Rough Draft of Essay #4 due
  • Essay #4 Due

1 I encourage the sharing and comparing of notes between students, but I discourage the taking and purchasing of notes from professional note-taking services. You may not reproduce, prepare derivative works based upon, distribute, perform, or display the lectures and class discussions for commercial use without first obtaining the written permission of the instructor.




5 John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 66.