The Mahabharata: Myth, Poetry, and Dharma
One of history’s greatest literary works, The Mahabharata narrates an epic story: the introduction to our supposed age, the Kali Yuga—one of downfall and decline, but also eventual rebirth. Preeminently a dialogic work, the Mahabharata remembers a past that requires constant re-narration, simultaneously defining and critiquing dharma—or “proper conduct.” These dialogues culminate famously in the Bhagavad Gita, the battlefield conversation between the hero Arjuna and his charioteer, who is “revealed” to be the great god Krishna. On the edge of battle Arjuna and Krishna argue some of the most delicate points of moral philosophy, theology, and cosmology, all revolving around the questions of the justness of waging inter-familial war, how to resolve personal duty and culpability, and the nature of the universe itself. What does it mean to live well? Is there such a thing as a just war? How should we understand and respond to suffering? What hope is there for the world?
This course will focus upon gaining a sense of the narrative sweep of the whole, while also centering our reading and discussion upon a selection of key episodes, characters, and themes in the vast work: Yudhishthira’s dice game, Draupadi and the depiction of women and sexuality, the Bhagavad Gita and the relations between mortals and gods, Karna and the fate of the outsider, battle and purification, poetry as consolation, genealogy, and commemoration, and the possibilities for ethical life in calamitous times.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
June 17 — July 08, 2020