Why Water Matters:

Water conceptualized in the Greco-Roman World

Fall 2017



due dates:


Professor Irby

Office: Morton 329

Office phone: 1-2162 (better to avoid the phone and come by the office or use e-mail)

Office Hours: M: 10-11 am; W: 1-2 pm;  and by appointment

e-mail: glirby@wm.edu

web pages:


Grading scale: 100-94% = A; 93-91% = A-; 90-87% = B+; 86-84% = B; 80-83% = B-; 79-77% = C+; 76-73% = C; 72-73% = C-; 69-67% = D+; 66-63% = D; 92-60% = D-; 59%-0% = F


Exams and Course Grade:

Individual presentations

 75 points

Group Presentations/Discussions

 50 points

Analysis Papers (4 total)

 100 points


50 points

Weekly Summaries (10 total)

50 points


 25 points


150 points


500 points


Course Description:

Water is everywhere. 71% of our earth is covered in water (96% of which exists in the world’s oceans). Water exists in the air as vapor and as moisture in soil. The human body is comprised of over 50% water, and a person cannot survive without water for more than a few days. Keeping well-hydrated contributes to regular bodily functioning, clear skin, and clear headedness. Evidence that suggests the existence of liquid water near the surface of Mars leads scientists today speculate whether life existed on Mars. And recent discoveries of planets that MIGHT have liquid water have the astronomy world all abuzz. Water is essential to life as we know it.

To the ancients, water was no less important. Seas, the circumambient Ocean, rivers, lakes – waterways – were integral to the fabric of Greek culture. The sea was the lifeline of Greek communities, essential to polis subsistence (through fishing), commerce, defense. The sea was the backdrop for mythology. Heracles, Jason, and Odysseus traveled by sea. Colonization was largely a maritime enterprise, as were great voyages of exploration (Hanno, Pytheas, Alexander). It is only natural, then, that the Greeks would inquire into the nature of the ocean, seas, and other waterways. Aided by data collected from sailors, merchants, and explorers, they investigated sea and river depths, currents, tides, silting, estuaries, riverine anomalies (most notably the Nile flood), and other aquatic phenomena.

In this course we will investigate the ancient Mediterranean understanding and use of water, looking forward to how the stresses have remained the same but how theories and human responses to those stresses have changed.


Course Objectives:

The excitement of scholarly inquiry:

Both the human condition and the scholarly process are fluid. Our readings, focusing on primary sources, will cover a large chronological sweep to show how theory changes as data are accrued and social structures adapt. Even modern interpretations of ancient theory change. Thus, a combination of primary and secondary sources demonstrates that scholarship is a complex interplay between primary sources, scholarly training, and the scholar’s own cultural biases or even political prejudices. Through this course you are warmly invited to participate in this dialogue.

Digital information:

We shall examine a variety of secondary sources (both traditional and digital) and discuss the merits of peer-reviewed scholarship over “popularizing” sources (e.g. internet blogs, personal web pages, and such). Since the course will rely so heavily on primary sources, we shall also focus on the issues that surround their interpretation and learn how to cite them properly. Furthermore, we shall also learn how to find, navigate, and assess digital sources (JSTOR, L’Annee Philologique, databases).

Our Critical Questions:

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 437-71: (http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Prometheus.htm)

Now listen to what I (Prometheus) did for the mortals to save them from their many miseries.

In the beginning they were without a working mind so I gave them sense and reason. I am not saying this to disparage mankind but to show that the gifts I have given them were due to my love for them.

Firstly, in those days their eyes were of no use and the same was true of their ears which, though they could hear sounds, they made no sense of them. For their whole lives mortals lived as if in a dream, confused about everything and making sense of nothing. They didn’t know if a building was made of brick or wood nor knew anything about houses that were warmed by the sun but they lived beneath the ground in sunless caves, as do the ants.

They knew nothing of the signs of Winter or of Spring, full of blossoms, or of Summer, full of fruit and upon which they could depend for their survival but they just wandered about and acted aimlessly, until I came about. I explained to them the risings and settings of stars, a difficult art to explain.

And yes, I invented for them numbers, too, the most important science; and the stringing up of letters, the art of Memory, the mother of the Muses. I have also brought the wild beasts into the sway of men, placing them under the yoke, the collar and the saddle so they can carry the heavy burdens of men.

I have harnessed horses to the chariots and made them obey men’s reins as a show of wealth and luxury.

And it was I and no one else who had discovered the seafarer’s flax-winged craft that now roam about all the seas. I, the poor wretch, have all the wisdom to have made all these discoveries for mankind yet I don’t have enough wisdom to devise something with which I can rid myself of my own suffering.


The ancients had a robust theory of everything without the fancy computers and digital equipment that pervade modern life. And though the scientific methods and its goals may change over the years, one thing remains eternal: like the ancients, we in the 21st century continue to investigate the natural world and to interact with it. Either we respect Nature and work with her, or we try to control her, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes to our detriment. With a focus on water in its many aspects and applications, we will explore such questions as:


COLL 100 is intended to focus on methods of communication beyond the traditional written essay. Throughout the term, we will be exploring various methods of communication (visual arts, oral story-telling, music with and without lyrics, video, webpages and blogs, power point). You will complete four short analysis assignments highlighting various communication platforms.


Weekly Reading Responses

Due once a week (M or W, according to the demands of your schedule), please submit a paragraph (75-150 words – typed, double-spaced, 12 point, time-new-roman) on the readings assigned for the day. You may make a thoughtful comment on episodes, formulate an informed question, or comment on some particularly interesting passage, theme, or trope. You may even comment on an interesting, relevant work of art or music or digital platform that relates to the day’s assigned reading/themes/topics. The assignment is open-ended and is intended to encourage deeper preparation for class discussion. You must submit one paragraph per week (10 total – the semester is 13 full weeks long), and I do expect greater sophistication as the term progresses. These responses must be submitted in person the day of class (no email submissions will be accepted; no summaries will be accepted for a day that you are absent)



Each student will give a brief summary (about 10 minutes) of an assigned author  and offer a question to the class for discussion (this is a low stress "oral presentation").  Your presentation can be supported by a VERY SHORT ppt for class distribution (but ppt is not required). 

Grades will be assessed on the following rubric:

pre-presentation consultation (10 points)

use of sources (10 points)

content and accuracy (35 points)

discussion question/activity (10 points)

 presentation/leadership/direction of class activity (10 points)


Creative Project: As the extent and complexity of your proposal warrants, you may work individually or in small groups to produce a non-traditional project of your choice (webpage, mock wiki entry, mapping, video, blog, song, painting, etc.). Your project will underscore class themes or explore more deeply an author, theory, water stress, or solution to a water stress. Please note the following deadlines:

September 18: Proposals due

October 13: Status Report

November 10 and 17: Draft Reports

December 4 and 6: project in-class presentations (explain your inspiration, methodology, process, and the learning experience effected by the project)

Grades will be assessed on the following rubric:

Proposal (10 points)

Status Report (10 points)

Draft Report (10 points)

 in-class presentation (20 points)

what the project communicates about the topic (25 points)

what your presentation communicates about your learning experience (25 points)

brief self-interpretive essay (if working in a group, each participant must submit a separate essay) (50 points)

Public Talk Analysis (due December 1)

Attend three talks on campus

Compare the effectiveness of the three speakers: how clear and organized is each one? What "noise" does each speaker bring to bear? Who is the intended audience? How effectively is the message conveyed? What did you learn about verbal communication by listening to three very different talks, speakers, speaker styles?

Webpage analysis (due October 18)

Select TWO of the following (due November 27)


Image analysis

Look at all of the paintings, and choose 1 of the following.

Why did you choose your particular painting? In analyzing your painting, consider color and composition. What story does the artist tell? How do the colors and composition enhance/detract from the story? What details enhance the artist’s message? Is there any “noise” that detracts from the story? How might you improve the painting to enhance its efficacy? Is this medium effective for the story? How does your painting speak to our class content and/or critical questions?

Music analysis

Listen to all the musical pieces, and choose 1 of the following.

Why did you choose your particular musical piece? In analyzing your musical piece, consider instrumentation, tempo, melody, harmonics, key. Where songs are accompanied by lyrics, consider the voice like an instrument, and though you will want to consider the lyrics in your analysis, focus instead on the music. What story does the artist tell? How do the musical lines enhance/detract from the story? What details enhance the artist’s message? Is there any “noise” that detracts from the story? How might you improve the music/instrumentation to enhance its efficacy? Is this medium effective for the story? How does your musical piece speak to our class content and/or critical questions?

Map analysis

Look at each of the following maps and choose 1.

Why did you choose your particular map? Think about the shape and orientation of landmasses and waterways, and the aspect ratio of your maps. Where is the center? What details are featured prominently? What features are understated? What does this map tell you about the worldview of the people who created it? How does the map reveal contemporary science? And what does this maps tell you about how these cartographers perceive(d), interpret(ted), and interact(ed) with the natural world, and how the cartographer’s conception of the world reflects the times in which he lives?


Movie analysis

Movie review: select one of the following (preferably a film that you’ve not already seen):

Why did you choose your particular movie? Analyze your movie according to the effectiveness of its plot, script, cinematography, sound-track, casting, costuming, props, direction. What aspects of the movie advanced the story? What “noise” detracted from the story? What might you do to ‘improve’ the movie? In what ways does your movie speak to our class content/critical questions?

If you choose an early movie, don’t be hyper-critical of the special effects. Instead be amazed at what the early film-makers were able to accomplish without modern cgi etc. In addition, don’t worry about fidelity to an original work of literature or to historicity. Instead focus on whether the film tells a good story.

Class Participation and Attendance is essential to success in this class. COLL 100 is an interactive course, and your success depends on your effort. You must be in class every day, on time, prepared (e.g., you MUST complete the assigned readings BEFORE class), and you must ready to discuss. By participation, I do not mean simply attending class, I mean consistent, thoughtful dialogue and meaningful engagement with the readings. I reserve the right to collect assigned homework and give pop quizzes.

A: You make thoughtful and consistent contributions to class discussion. You have done the readings and have thought about them productively

B: You participate occasionally and with reasonable efficacy

C: You rarely participate or do so superficially or disruptively

You are allowed one unexcused absence. Any absences beyond this (including excessively late arrivals to class = 10 minutes late) will be penalized. For each unexcused absence, two points will be deducted from your final (total) class average.

You are also allowed two class days for which you are unprepared (let me know at the beginning of class if you wish to cash in one of your allowed "unprepared" days), but you will not be allowed to make up a quiz that might be given on that day. Any days beyond this for which you are unprepared will be penalized. For each unexcused "unprepared" day, one point will be deducted from your final (total) class average.

Excused Absences include unavoidable conflicts, such as extended illnesses and family emergencies (but not regularly scheduled physician/dentist appointments for routine matters). Keep in touch with me as you are able. Within 48 hours of your return to school, you must provide in hard-copy (not e-mail) a written signed statement citing an acceptable reason for the absence. Requests for excused absences should conclude with the phrase: “I understand that this statement is made under the strictures of the William and Mary Honor Code” and should be signed by the student asking for an excused absence. Makeup final exams will only be scheduled with the permission of the instructor and the Office of the Dean of Students.

Quizzes and homeworks are worth 50 points of your final grade. Since the lowest quiz grade will be dropped, no quiz may be taken early, late, or made up for any reason. Quizzes will be both announced and un-. It is highly unlikely that the webpage will be updated to reflect upcoming announced quizzes – so, come to class. Homework must be completed before each class meeting, and "turn-in" homework is due at the beginning of class.

Make-up Policy: No make-up work will be allowed for any reason. No e-mail submissions will be accepted. One quiz will be dropped from your final quiz average.

Class Room Policies: Regular attendance is expected. Additional readings and changes to the syllabus may be announced in class.




No work will be accepted late

No make-ups will be permitted

Arrive prepared and on time

Minor adjustments to the syllabus may be announced in class

It is your responsibility to keep informed about changes to the syllabus and exam schedule

Turn off cell phones and whatnot before coming to class


No texting during class

Regular Attendance is strongly encouraged

Hark upon the Gale: Remember the Honor Code




Tentative schedule of assignments

changes and additional readings will be announced in class: the website may or may not be updated, depending on the whim of the gods and the alignment of the planets – just another reason to be sure to come to class :-)

Assigned readings are linked below


August 30: Introduction

September 1: no class


I. the science of water

September 4: precis of modern conceptualizations

September 6: Water and the 4 element/humor theory

September 8: Add/Drop ends


September 11: Nature of water

Presentation: Aristotle: Thomas

September 13: Tides

 Presentation: Poseidonius: Henry

September 15: Project Brainstorming


September 18: How water affects the weather 

Presentation: Seneca the Younger: Elizabeth

project proposal due

September 20: Superstorms

Presentation: Gilgamesh: Peter

Presentation: Ovid: Joe

September 22: no class


 September 25: no class

II. People and Water

September 27Water rights

Presentation: Frontinus: Noah

Presentation: Digest: Christopher

September 29: The Search for the Source of the Nile

Presentation: Herodotus: Jack

Presentation: Henry Morton Stanley: Kevin


October 2Aqueducts and the Urban Water Supply

Presentation: Vitruvius: Tayler

October 4: Water and religion/ritual

Presentation: Ovid's Fasti: Emma

Lecture: Oct. 5, 5:30 pm, Andrews 101, Dr. Sandra Blakely, Emory University, “Gods, Games and Sailors: Maritime Networks and the Mysteries of the Great Gods of Samothrace.” Virginia N. Brinkley lecture

October 6

website analysis and

video analysis workshop


October 9: Trade and commerce and control of the seas by law or force (antiquity)

Presentation: Suetonius: Trayln

Presentation: Plutarch: Sean

October 11: Trade and commerce and control of the seas by law or force (modern)


October 13: project status report due (no class)


October 14-17: Fall Break


III. Water and War/National Identity

October 18: Greek and Roman ships and boats

Presentation: Athenaeus: Chrisney

Lecture: Oct. 19, 5:30 pm, Andrews 101, Dr. Mary Ann Eaverly, University of Florida, “Cultic Continuity:  Re-Interrogating The Parthenon Frieze.”

October 20: website analysis due (no class)


October 23: Navigation (ships, latitude/longitude)

Presentation: Tacitus: Julia

Presentation: Strabo: Gloria

October 25: the Greek Navy


October 27: last day to withdraw from a class


October 30: the Roman Navy and Naumachiae

Presentation: Julius Caesar: Nolan

Presentation: Dio Cassius: Emmi

November 1: the British Navy

Presentation: James Cook: Yashna

November 3: music analysis workshop


November 6: Polynesia: readings from We, The Navigators

Presentation: Mau Pulang

IV. Adventure on the high seas

November 8: Water and Mythology, Sea gods, heroic quest

Presentation: periploi: Michelle

Lecture: Nov. 9, 5:30 pm, Andrews 101, Mr. Jack W. Brink, Curator of Archaeology, Royal Alberta Museum, “The Great Buffalo Jumps.”Archaeological Institute of America, Stone Lecture

November 10: project status reports


November 13: Odysseus

Presentation: Homer: Michael

November 15: Aeneas

Presentation: Vergil: Ngoe-Tran

November 17: project status reports


November 20:

Presentation: Apollonius of Rhodes: Taryn



November 27Theseus, Herakles, and Hot Springs


Analyses 2-3 due

November 29: Modern selections


December 1: Water Mythology Group Presentations


December 4: Project Presentations

December 6: Project Presentations