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Spend your vacation with Aristophanes

There's plenty to discuss -- and learn -- in the 'Summer Classics' program at St. John's College in Santa Fe.

March 20, 2005|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

July is several months away, but it's important to apply now for some of the more popular summer programs.

One of my favorites is the "Summer Classics" program of St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M. It is an intense and rewarding educational program, offering one-week and longer vacations to the intellectually curious.

St. John's in Santa Fe, and its sister campus in Annapolis, Md., are "great books" schools, colleges in which the undergraduate curriculum consists entirely of reading and discussing some of the greatest works of the Western tradition, starting with Homer and ending with Freud.

Students spend their classroom time at long tables in seminar rooms, discussing these works with "tutors" (faculty).

That's exactly what you -- a serious vacationer -- also will do but for only a week, in most cases, in July. You'll live in a student residence on a mountaintop campus overlooking Santa Fe and you'll eat in the student dining hall. Summer students choose one book from an offering of six or seven each week and discuss it each morning or afternoon with St. John's tutors.

There are no entrance requirements, grades or exams; you pursue learning for the love of learning. In your off time, you explore Santa Fe and the surrounding desert.

The charge for a week, including tuition for five daily classes, books, six nights' accommodations and meals from Sunday dinner until Saturday breakfast is $1,595 per person, not including transportation to Santa Fe. If you wish to pursue a second seminar in the course of your week there, you would pay an additional $1,100.

My wife and I participated for two magic summers. It was one of the great intellectual adventures of our lives. The first year, we read and discussed Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War," that powerful depiction of military conflicts, tactics and national policies handed down, in the author's words, as "a gift for all time."

One of our tutors was the then-president of St. John's, the other was a classical scholar, and the seminar room was electric with friendly argument. We kept up by reading large chunks of the book each evening and even declaiming it aloud on some afternoons as we wandered by car over northern New Mexico.

The next year, during our second summer week, we read Dante's "Inferno," this time aided by two Dante specialists of the St. John's faculty. We read several cantos each night, then discussed the thoughts and beliefs of the poet each morning. Our class included adults of all ages from all over the country.

In July, St. John's will let you select among 19 seminars, each devoted to a single book or opera that is read and discussed from 10 a.m. to noon, or from 2 to 4 p.m., for a week, of which the following are a partial listing:

July 10-15: Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra"; Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov"; Machiavelli's "The Prince"; William Harvey's "On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals"; Halldor Laxness' "Independent People."

July 17-22: Tolstoy's "War and Peace"; "Freud on Love and Death"; Cervantes' "Don Quixote"; "Three Comedies" (Aristophanes' "The Clouds," Moliere's "The Misanthrope."

July 24-29: Joseph Conrad's "Nostromo"; Herodotus' "The Histories"; Sri Aurobindo's "The Life Divine"; "The Operas of Benjamin Britten"; "Gospels of Matthew, John and Thomas."

For a booklet describing the program, contact Summer Classics, St. John's College, 1160 Camino Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe, NM 87505-4599; (505) 984-6117, (click on "Educational Outreach," then "Summer Classics"). And if you are too late for this year, ask for the earliest possible announcement of next year's program.

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