First-Year Studies: From Animal Farm to the Republic


In Animal Farm, George Orwell sought to show how the ideal of equality can lead to despotism. In 1984, he sought to show how the pursuit of a rational politics can have the same consequence. In this course, we will begin by reading Animal Farm and 1984 and seek to understand what Orwell is saying about modern politics. Then we will proceed to a reading of Plato’s Republic, a work by which Orwell was clearly inspired in writing 1984. We shall investigate what Plato had to say about the ideal of a rational politics, about the claims of equality, and about the political dangers posed by those two ideals. We shall then read a number of the comedies of Aristophanes, which are inspired by the ideals of democracy and their consequences. Some of those comedies are concerned with the question of the status of women; others, with other implications of democracy—including the political dangers posed by philosophy itself, which Aristophanes considers in The Clouds. Next, we shall return to Plato to see his response to Aristophanes’ questioning of philosophy in The Clouds and also to consider Aristophanes’ influence on Plato’s writing. We shall then read selections from Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, Xenophon’s Hellenica, and Plutarch’s Parallel Lives in order to better understand the historical events behind Aristophanes’ plays and Plato’s dialogues.