Between the Lines: November-December 2006

November 30, 2006

Not long ago I met with the perpetually over-scheduled Peter Burian, chair of classical studies. I came to know Burian two decades ago, when I accompanied him and art historian Annabel Wharton on a study-abroad summer program. Rooted in Rome, the program was an exemplar of "interdisciplinarity" before that became an academic buzzword: It touched on themes ranging from the architecture of imperial power to the aesthetics of religious representation.

With the close-at-hand enticements of a great city, study-abroad students can have a casual attitude about learning. But this teaching team was so clearly caught up in the material—caught up in the physical manifestations of a past civilization—that the students were swept up in a wave of enthusiasm.

The passage of time seems to have only deepened Burian's teaching enthusiasm. This fall, his "Performing Passion, Reason, and Community: Classical Theater in the Contemporary Imagination" was co-taught with Donna Zapf, director of Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. It looked at classical narratives—Medea, Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and others—in relation to later interpretations and adaptations through opera, film, plays, and dance.

For the spring, Burian has another co-teacher, literature professor Erdag Goknar, in "Literary Translation." Burian has translated ancient Greek dramatists; Goknar has translated Turkish writer Orham Pamuk, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Their course will ponder questions related to a "faithful" translation; students will present their own translation projects in progress.

Teaching at Duke—including the Burian-style breaking of intellectual boundaries—is the subject of one of this issue's features. Fortunately all of us have our own stories testifying that inspired teaching matters to students, and to professors like Burian, as well.