Great Books 3: Foundational Texts of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance

Grades 9-12+2High school students may be awarded 1 History and 1 Literature credit upon completion of this course.

Supervising teacher Sue Ellen Turscak will be working closely with the instructor for this class.

In this rigorous Socratic tutorial, students read many of the foundational texts of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. Students explore the medieval epic and the beginnings or literary culture in Europe: the age of chivalry, feudal society, British history and legend, and the Scholastic writers. Assignments focus on the ideas that moved those ages: the tensions between faith and reason, morality and "courtly love," the culture of earthly glory and heroism and a growing introspection and reflection on the nature of the soul.

Each week, students produce thoughtful, text-based responses to topical and reflective questions, as well as 300-word Summae--short essays that expand upon ideas raised in class discussions. Students write several longer essays in analytical, expository, and creative/analytical formats. The instructor provides feedback on both content and composition, nurturing the development of students' written expression and writing proficiency.

This class meets once a week. Classes are two hours in length. Students should expect approximately 6 hours of homework (reading, study questions, and composition) per week. Because of this rigorous amount of work, the course may be counted for up to two high school credits, depending on your state's requirements.

High school students may also take this course for dual enrollment credit through the University of St. Katherine. Upon completion, the University will issue the student a transcript with 3 college credits per semester. USK credits are transferable to other colleges and universities.

Prerequisites:  Great Books 2, or equivalent at the high school level with permission of instructor.

"I am so delighted with Mrs. Turscak’s Great Books III class this year!!  My daughter likes it and is reading and thinking and writing way more than she’s done for any other Great Books class we’ve used!  Wish I had committed to it three or so years ago when I first heard about it!"
- Yvonne B, California

Great Books III is a course in Literature, History, and Composition.

Literature and History:

Major themes in the course come from the works themselves including the values they endorse and the metaphors for understanding life they offer.

Texts include the following in their entirety:
1) Beowulf
2) The Song of Roland
3) The History of the Kings of Britain (Geoffrey of Monmouth)
4) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
5) Le Morte d’Arthur (Malory)
6) The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer)
7) Amleth and Shakespeare's Hamlet
8) Scholastics and mystics: Anselm, Bernard de Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine,
Hildegard of Bingen
9) The Prince (Machiavelli)
10) Henry V (Shakespeare)
11) The medieval morality play, Everyman
12) The Divine Comedy: Inferno (Dante)
13) Doctor Faustus (Marlowe)


This course continues to refine students’ writing skills through the study of classical rhetoric. Students will be able to identify and analyze the structure of spoken and written communication, applying the techniques to their own writing about the literature and history of the Medieval and early Renaissance periods. Students read and discuss primary sources from the Great Books III Literature and History texts and compose weekly summae – written responses of approximately 300 words in response to ideas presented in the texts. Other writing assignments include classical rhetorical exercises, literary analysis, writing about history, persuasive writing, and occasional creative responses to texts. The writing process is emphasized — from outline to draft to revision. Students  receive extensive feedback from the instructor at each stage of this process with multiple opportunities to revise and re-submit their work. Students learn to use MLA format for in-text citations and bibliographic references for each essay and summa.

"Because of their Great Books classes with Sue Ellen Turscak, my children have an incredible love and understanding of great literature and can express it in writing in a manner that is rarely seen today and almost never seen in high school students."
-- Heidi B., Ohio

Additional Note:

The CLRC Great Books program focuses on literary and historical primary sources from the ancient world through the Renaissance and the early modern world. The literature is read for its own merit and studied within the historical and cultural time period in which it was written.

In Year 1, as we read the Iliad and Odyssey, the backdrop of Homer’s great epic is an assumed faith in the Olympian pantheon. Students are not required to express belief in Zeus, Hera, Apollo and the other Olympian gods. The class will not seek to criticize or disprove the religious underpinning of the text. However, students must understand that this is the religious assumption on which the epic is based. Similarly, Year 2 focuses on the Foundational Texts of Ancient Rome. In the first semester students study the preChristian authors Vergil, Caesar, Livy, Sallust, Tacitus and Plutarch. The second semester moves on to the period of history which is dominated by the rise of the Christian Church. Students read Eusebius, Augustine, Athanasius and other early Christian writers. These texts and this period of history are essential to an understanding of the texts studied in Great Books 3 – the period of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance – which is dominated by the conflict of Faith and Reason. As with the religion of Ancient Greece and Rome, students are not required to subscribe to belief in particular Christian doctrines, but they should understand that foundational texts of the Christian faith will be read in the second half of Year 2.

Students from all faiths and creeds are encouraged to read, understand, and write about the texts through the lens of their own beliefs, in an environment of open, caring, and conscientiously moderated discussion. Students who have questions or doubts reading ancient Greek and Roman texts, or texts of the early Christian church, may wish to contact the instructor for more information or choose a CLRC Literature and Composition class instead.

What students have to say about the importance of reading, discussing, and wrestling deeply with the Great Books:

"When we [read the Great Books], we see a pattern relating people’s happiness in life to where they place their focus. Specifically, when people are self-absorbed, they tend to be unhappy. When people focus their energy on others, and step outside of themselves, they find true fulfillment. The great books of Western culture show us that the good life is achieved by actively striving to serve other people."

For the complete text of this student's essay, CLICK HERE.