After reading Rousseau’s “A Discourse on Inequality”, I had a lot going through my head. First of all, I was astounded by the detail and incredible insight Rousseau showed in his work when describing mankind in the state of nature, especially the learning of language. The very idea that Rousseau is a couple hundred years dead and yet was so accurate in describing mankind’s early stages is incredible. Perhaps it’s the detail he goes into, explaining the savage man’s life in the wild, the fear, and everything else he describes. Or maybe it’s the way he so effortlessly picks apart the differences, physical and mental, between the modern day man and the savage man. Rousseau was simply ahead of his time, and it’s shown by his ideas and writing.

It’s easy to praise a work, but there’s also a few things which bothered me with Rousseau’s “A Discourse on Inequality”. The way in which Rousseau holds man up, on a pedestal almost bathed in the golden light of divinity, almost as if nothing could amount to mankind’s great intelligence and organization. While of course I see that humans are greatly above your average animal in intelligence, I do think that Rousseau greatly underestimated animals. He gave them little credit, basically saying they were slave to instinct, unable to improve themselves, and too dumb to learn language. Then again, it is sometimes hard to remember that this was written in an era illuminated by candlelight.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like Rousseau and his work is because at certain points he just plainly admits that he has no idea how something came about. When talking about how grammarians came about to continue the evolution of language, he simply states that he doesn’t know how they came about. I like the fact that he isn’t trying to cover up his lack of knowledge with false facts, and it’s refreshing to read such an intelligent writer admit that in regards to certain things, he just doesn’t have a clue.

Of all the things I could say, I basically like the fact that Rousseau seems to have a solid amount of common sense. He understands basic ideas like how wild animals will be a bit tougher than domesticated ones, and with a solid amount of sense he’s able to apply the same idea to humans, deriving that in fact humanity has physically devolved, and that we are much weaker than the humans forced to live in the state of nature. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Rousseau’s work, and I’m hoping there will be more surprises like this throughout the semester.


Plato’s “Republic” is perhaps one of the most intriguing books for me on our reading list. While it isn’t my favorite, it is one of the ones which after reading a few paragraphs, I’ll have to stop and think about them for a while and then probably reread them. The book is densely packed with ideas, ranging from the definition of justice to building the perfect city. While there are plenty of important philosophical ideas which helped shape philosophy as we know it today, there are some ideas which I really dislike. Probably part of the reason for that is the character of Socrates, and how incessant and irritating he becomes throughout the book. He is never satisfied, always asking for clarifications and questions, ultimately he just becomes annoying.

Probably the most interesting part of “Republic” to me is the way Plato/Socrates builds his perfect city. His idea that the philosophers are the ruling class is definitely an interesting one, yet it seems obvious that Plato was looking out for himself when he decided that. Sure, maybe if we were forced to choose from philosophers, warriors, and workers, the best class to rule would be indeed the philosophers. Yet it seems like Plato makes out the philosophers to be a way nicer bunch than they probably are. The way he envisions their reign seems a little too positive, and I think that while the philosophers are great individuals, even they can become corrupt by having the power to rule a city. Yet this isn’t what really bothers me about Plato/Socrates’s perfect city, what really bothers me is how Plato/Socrates decide how people are placed into classes.

The fact that they do not take into consideration someone’s personal happiness is what annoys me. While the philosophers have the “burden” of ruling, everyone else is doing their jobs which were assigned to them. The idea that in the perfect city an individual doesn’t even have the right to try what and be what they want to be is ludicrous. Plato/Socrates’s method of assigning classes would only work if the perfect city was inhabited by robots. It just doesn’t work with humans because we’re selfish animals, we strive to do what makes us happy. While you could say that it should make us happy that we’re contributing to the greater good of the city, I just don’t think that’s enough to satisfy someone who is forced to be a worker, when they dream of fighting on the battlefields.

That’s my main gripe with the “Republic”, and overall it’s not that big of an issue considering all the other thought-provoking ideas that Plato writes about. Probably the idea I find most interesting is the allegory of the cave, and how innovative it must have been especially in the times “Republic” was written. The way it applies to a lot of modern day aspects such as advertising is really interesting, and is what makes it such an important philosophical milestone. Ultimately, Plato’s “Republic” is a classic of western literature because of how many different interesting and innovative ideas it had, and while I had a few gripes with it, overall it was definitely worth reading.

The Prince

While reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince” I was consistently amazed by many of Machiavelli’s ideals and principles. I feel like I finally understand why “The Prince” is such an important book, as many of Machiavelli’s ideas are still applicable today for the modern ruler. Ultimately it seems like Machiavelli was one of the first of his time to be truly cynical when it came to power, and how to achieve it. Machiavelli doesn’t view power as a luxury, he sees it more as a necessity, and the way to get it is through his very precise and almost scientific methods outlined in “The Prince”. While a lot of his ideas are fantastic and still sort of applicable (ex. better to rule with fear than love), there are others which didn’t quite relate to me (such as conquering foreign lands), yet it was still really interesting to read about Machiavelli’s thoughts and historical evidence and stories.

Maybe it shows how times have changed, but I feel like a Machiavellian leader is much more difficult to come across today. While there will always be those strange exceptions like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the majority of world leaders seem to have strayed away from being Machiavellian, and instead understand that their relationship with their people is actually important, and being truly virtuous as well. While I have never met Barack Obama, I feel like I can safely say that he isn’t faking his kindness and virtues, and that he is indeed a kind man with the goal of improving the average American’s well being. While leaders are less Machiavellian in that way, the fact that results are what matter has not changed.

The fact that results still are what truly matters is what makes Machiavelli’s “The Prince” still applicable today. “The Prince” is all about getting results, and making sure that those results are never compromised due to uprisings or political enemies outsmarting you. I guess that’s something that will never change about politics and power, and that’s what makes Machiavelli’s work so important, is that it teaches the most important aspect and doesn’t dance around talking about other aspects of ruling which can change with time. Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is all about results, and it remains such an important piece of literature today because our society is still based around results, and probably always will be.

Christopher Columbus

After reading The Four Voyages I’ve really tried to understand his thoughts, and why he continuously avoided the truth that he had discovered a new land for the Spaniards. While of course his main goal was to arrive to the Indies, deliver letters to the Grand Khan, and acquire spices and other goods, the discovery of a new land should not be an event to shy away from like Columbus did. It makes almost no sense to me, and it also leads me to the conclusion that Columbus was not an explorer.

Columbus’s goal was not to see foreign lands, and explore for the sake of discovery, his goal was to increase the wealth for those who hired him. In this way, he was a mercenary. If he had been an explorer, he would’ve acknowledged his obvious discovery of new territory, and he would’ve reported it rather than try to cover it up. Ultimately Columbus only puts himself in increasingly uncomfortable positions, in which he has to make deals with his crew, and furthermore lie and hide the truth to his employers and himself. It makes almost no sense to me why he would put himself through this ridiculous search for the indies rather than realize the fact that he had not landed on the indies, he had landed on a completely foreign and undiscovered land for Europeans.

Perhaps I think all of this because as a child, when learning about Columbus he was always made out to be the best of explorers. I saw Christopher Columbus as a man who ventured into new lands with gusto. Instead as I grew up, little by little my perception of Columbus changed. With The Four Voyages my perception of Columbus has completely been flipped. He wasn’t brave enough to see his discovery, he cowered behind his lies and excuses. He didn’t accept the natives, he saw them as a means to find gold. And perhaps worst of all for me, I see him no longer an explorer, I see him as a mercenary.

I say this because any man could’ve been hired to embark on a similar journey, and the Spanish Royalty would’ve gotten the same results, with perhaps being lied to a little less. After reading The Four Voyages I just can’t see Christopher Columbus the same anymore. While of course his discovery shouldn’t be undermined, as he did broaden the scope of exploration for Europeans, his motivations and actions make him a mercenary like any other man the Spaniard’s could’ve found.

Oedipus the King

I was expecting a lot of things from this play, mainly because I had always heard a lot of it, but I had never actually read it. After reading it, I could see what made it such a classic Greek literature, yet I really didn’t enjoy reading it. The way Oedipus is just working away to his own destruction was pretty disturbing to me. The amount of dramatic irony in this play is ridiculous, and it was a bit too much for me. While I knew the story before I read it, the amount of dramatic irony just made it difficult for me to expect any surprises while reading. I knew Oedipus was going to have to find out eventually, and that being the hero of the story, he would punish himself.

I found that for the first time in our reading list, Oedipus is the first “hero” with which I didn’t have a very strong connection with. While I definitely pitied him, and felt sorry for him, I had difficulty relating or connecting with Oedipus. Particularly in certain parts, like when he picks on the blind beggar. While of course those parts are important to foreshadow, and add to the irony (of which there’s already plenty of), I felt like it made Oedipus inconsistent as a character, especially when as a king he is so adamant about righteousness and justice.

While the play is definitely a tragedy, I don’t feel like it is a traditional tragedy. This play is a tragedy from the very beginning, with absolutely no deviation or opportunity to surprise the reader. It essentially felt like I was just waiting for Oedipus to realize what we all knew the entire time. This isn’t a tragedy which is able to connect the reader to a pair of star-crossed lovers, before their tragic deaths ensue. This tragedy instead is one in which the reader simply knows everything, and just waits until the hero punishes himself. This tragedy wasn’t exactly tragic for me, while I definitely felt bad for Oedipus who constantly works away to his own demise I never felt remotely sad. Perhaps the only tragic part of the play is how cruel Oedipus’s punishment to himself is.

While I’m sitting here, bashing the play about not being tragic enough, I think it’s important to recognize how Sophocles most likely had a very different definition of “tragedy” than we do today. In the modern era, we have many defining archetypal tragedies like Romeo and Juliet which set the standard for what to expect form a tragedy. Sophocles had none of these classics to guide him in his writing, in fact, Sophocles is very probably ahead of his time. While I recognize how fantastic this piece of literature is, I was still disappointed by my expectations set by our modern definition of tragedies.


Reading Beowulf was very reminiscent of our first book, The Odyssey. That might be one of the reasons that I really enjoyed Beowulf, as the epic tale is one of action. The edition from the bookstore is absolutely gorgeous, and the pictures and illustrations inside give the book a lot of depth and context in helping understand the objects and culture of Beowulf’s world. A large part of why I enjoy reading stories like The Odyssey and Beowulf is because there is a central hero which the story tends to follow.

As it says in the tale, Beowulf is “no mere hanger-on in a hero’s armour.”, and he is continuously lauded for his feats of strength and courage. The presence of a character like this, a powerful and wise hero is calming, and really gives me someone to cheer for. It might be a really simple thought, but I like having a “good guy” and especially a community which is ultimately “good”. Whether it is because we as people always strive for a happy community, or if it’s just easier to see who the is monster in the story, having a character like Beowulf or Odysseus makes stories much more enjoyable for me.

And what more could you ask from a character like Beowulf? He is truly the peak of a man, travelling to slay evil, and restore peace throughout the world. It is from this that we also see how exchanges and gifts were made in the tale. Once Beowulf kills Grendel he and his men are greatly rewarded by the king Hrothgar, who also is happy to let them stay in Heorot for as long as they wish. These exchanges show respect and gratitude in their true form, giving treasures and gold stories behind them rather than just meaningless objects with a predetermined amount of value. It reminds me why I like concrete gifts more than just receiving money from relatives.

Yet ultimately the story of Beowulf is a tragic one. While the Odyssey might end in (relative) happiness, Beowulf seems to be quite different as our hero who fought so valiantly for the community is abandoned and left to die. While this is pretty sad, I really loved Beowulf as the story is a great example of what an epic tale should be like.


I really can’t find some texts interesting. For some reason, I think it’s when I’m unable to immerse myself in a world of literature that a text becomes a tough read. Reading the Genesis was like when I tried to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at too early of an age, it just didn’t appeal to me at all (And I haven’t tried to read Huck Finn since). A lot of it can be attributed to the religious factor, which I simply cannot find even remotely interesting. While I do have relatively religious grandparents, religion in my family died off, and my attitude has been one of indifference. While I’ve always had respect for a lot of religions, it’s just something which never truly grasped me, similarly to Genesis.

From the very start, a book which begins with God just flicking his magical hands around, creating everything in sight just seems ridiculous to me. I know this might sound strange but, I want explanations! It’s something which I had to put aside for my reading of this text, I just simply had to accept that God would do whatever he wanted, however he wanted, without having to explain anything to anyone. The way it portrays him, God seems like the ultimate being. Yet he also seems relatively powerless in some ways. Humanity and mankind continuously become corrupt, and even if God tries to wipe his slate clean (with a huge flood or some other magically conjured natural event), mankind still continues to have evil tendencies. To me it just seems like God built an ant farm, and as soon as the ants began exploring a bit, God decided to stick his pudgy finger in between the glass.

Certain aspects bothered me so much, that I just found the Genesis tough to chug through. While following the journey of Abram was relatively a bit more interesting, I still never became attached to any of the characters. I also really disliked the whole general feeling of clutter. The text is filled with events, characters, and actions which often are completely unexplained. This point really goes back to the one I made in the first paragraph, about how God is just an omnipotent being, yet somehow his ant farm experiment goes awry. As you can probably see by now, I really didn’t enjoy Genesis in the slightest. I’m definitely hoping our lecture on Monday can help me see things a bit differently, and maybe appreciate some of the hidden qualities of this old religious text.


Euripides’s Medea is a story which really highlights a lot of dark traits within humans. It’s difficult to find a protagonist in the story. While at first I thought it was Medea, because I felt sympathy for her, but as the story progressed, and she sought out her revenge, I slowly began to think of Jason as the protagonist. I felt like Euripides left the viewer (he intended it to be performed as a play) caught between these two sides, forced to pick one. Jason was doing his best to look out for his children, while Medea is completely left out in the cold, alone, without support.

While Medea’s actions could be categorized as an overreaction, Jason’s can definitely be seen as selfish and driven by a desire to be accepted. While we could try and answer the question “Who is wrong?”, it seems like everyone is wrong in a way. That’s what makes this play very realistic, there’s no righteous and pure character. Jason is an oathbreaker, betraying the love of his life without even blinking. On the other hand, Medea not only murders Jason’s future wife, she murders her own children, taking the lives of maybe the only innocent characters of this play.

While there’s plenty to think about regarding the play, I definitely liked it. The interaction with the chorus was very interesting, and I liked how at a certain point the chorus wasn’t just cheering on Medea. When she brought up the idea of killing her children, the chorus took the other side, trying to convince her that maybe murdering her children wasn’t the best idea. Another aspect of the play I really enjoyed was how Medea and Jason truly argued with words. We got to see both sides, Jason’s reasons, as well as Medea’s emotions reflecting her abandonment.

I think Euripides wrote this very much to make people think. To make them think of what humans are possible of when put under pressure. He wanted to show the monstrosity behind Medea’s actions, but especially the monstrosity behind Jason and all the others who rejected Medea. There was one thing however that I didn’t like very much, it was the way Medea is able to escape. Using Helios’s chariot as a free escape left me a little unsatisfied. I wanted to see repercussions regarding Medea’s actions. In the end, I guess I was left wanting more.

The Odyssey

Starting the Odyssey was quite a daunting task. I’ve never adventured into Greek literature of any kind, and my knowledge of Greek gods is limited at best. Yet as I read Homer’s great tale, the wide range of characters slowly began to grow on me, some which intrigued me, others which I disliked, and a select few which I liked. Ultimately it’s the characters which bring a story alive, and Homer’s tale is filled with a diverse cast of humans, gods, and other mythical creatures.

Right from the start of the book, a certain line stuck with me. It was Zeus, showing distate in the way mortals blamed and almost relied on the Gods, it starts on page 78, “Ah how shameless-the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share”. This quote has to be my favorite of The Odyssey. It shows that while the gods are… gods, they still have very human qualities. Zeus is almost annoyed at how the humans blame him, and he looks upon them as a squabbling group of children. From this quote, I began to understand that gods weren’t just benevolent entities filled with joy and kindness, each and every god had a deeper and more intricate personality, with their own principles and tempers. And so it isn’t just Telemachus, Odysseus, and other humans who are key characters throughout the story, the gods are part of the cast which makes this book so layered.

It’s from here that I slowly began to dislike a lot of the gods. With the exception of Athena, Hermes, and a few others, most gods are pretty selfish beings. Poseidon is only disturbed when he has to take vengeance for his murderous Cyclops son, and Zeus, while he shows some interest in protecting Odysseus and Telemachus, I always felt like he could’ve done more. And that’s not even starting to talk about Calypso, Circes, and some of the other nasty gods who trifled with Odysseus’s journey back home. It ultimately seemed like most of the gods were a pretty selfish bunch, not too worried about justice, or about interfering with human problems.

While I complain about the gods, Athena does really shine bright throughout the book. Like a straight-A student, she doesn’t seem to make a wrong move as she is always there to help out Telemachus, and later on Odyssues. Furthermore, one of my favorite things about the book was the fact that Odysseus built his bed from a tree. It showed how at the very foundation of everything in his life, is the love he shares with his wife. After all the toils and hardships he had to endure, at the end of the day he could return home, and crawl back into his bed, with his adoring wife. It’s almost as if it shows what he’s been surviving and fighting for, because at the center of it all, is the love of his life, Penelope, and that will never change.


Hi everyone, my name is Niccolo Conte. I was born in Los Angeles, California, where I spent most of my childhood. When I was 10, my family moved to Dallas, Texas for a few years before finally coming to Vancouver. Both my parents are Italian, and every summer I visit my extended family and friends in Italy. I love watching old movies (and new movies too), playing video-games, and following soccer. I listen to almost all types of music, and I enjoy playing the piano. I’ve always wanted to become a writer of some type, whether it be journalist, or a full on novel writer, but I’m definitely open to a lot of different careers.

I can’t wait for this course to get rolling and to meet all of you!