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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2006

T C 301 • Marsyas or: the Verbalizing or Music-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
42590 TTh
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
WAG 208

Course Description

In composing his Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid created one of the great books of the world. This seamless alignment of 250+ mythical vignettes not only constituted a stunning piece of literary architectonics, but supplied lesson upon lesson in how to write, how to make something out of something else, something it was not. This is one of the reasons that Ovid's masterpiece heads this course, which is mainly concerned with the telling of stories. In that masterpiece, in nineteen lines along in its sixth book, he supplies another inspirational figurehead: he tells a story about a musician, a satyr named Marsyas, and his music. Music is not verbal, and musicians are, often, not like others. Marysas' hideous fate for playing the wrong tunes on the wrong instrument to the arong audience--being skinned alive--may have been the author's rueful reflection on the role of the artist in a non-comprehending society, as Ovid was soon sent into exile because of the great fame his work had created. Or perhaps not. But the story has given this course, which deals in the interesting, if sometimes fatal, ways in which word and story deal with wordless sound, a start. Our "Marsyas," then, will clutch and deal with music and/or musicians in fiction. They are often so like...nearly.

About the Professor Douglass Parker is Professor of Classics. His B.A. is from Michigan, his Ph.D. from Princeton. He has taught at Yale and UCalifornia/Riverside, has been a visiting professor at Dartmouth and Michigan. He has been at Texas for a very long time...since the Fall of 1967. He was honored for undergraduate teaching at Cal/Riverside in 1957, and for graduate teaching at Texas in 1985. He has been a Fellow of the Hellenic Center and of the California Institute for the Creative Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellow. He rarely thinks of himself as an academic, but rather as an itinerant trombonist who took a wrong turn about 1946; he's been known to venture the opinion that man's highest achievement is jazz improvisation. He has published on bebop and on Tolkien. He is known for his verse translations of ancient comedies from Greek and Latin, especially of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, first performed in 1964 and still on stage somewhere. He's a ham actor, and appeared yearly in Shakespeare here, when we did that sort of thing in the 1970's. He dotes on incongruity, teaching courses in "Serendipity," "Improvisation," "Fragments," "Labyrinths," "Oz," and "ParaGeography" (his own invention). He writes poetry (sessions of "Zeus in Therapy") and prose (detective stories based on odd Latin syntax). He is devoted to his department and university, and serves them as a functioning example of antiquity.

Grading Policy

This course has a substantial writing component. Essay 1 (4-6 pages): 15% Essay 2 (4-6 pages): 15% Parody paper (6-8 pages): 20% Presentation (min. 8 pages): 20% Production of presentation: 10% Class participation: 20%


Anthony Burgess, Napoleon Symphony: a novel in the structure of Beethoven's Third ("Eroica") Symphony about Napoleon, to whom the composer originally intended to dedicate the piece. Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors: a detective novel devoted to and patterned on the peculiarly English form that governs "change-ringing"--the mathematical ordering of church-bell melodies. Dorothy Baker, Young Man With a Horn & Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter: two jazz novels, both fictionalizing the lives of jazz trumpet players (Bix Beiderbecke and Buddy Bolden), but in remarkably different ways. (The 1950 movie of Young Man, with Kirk Douglas, will serve as an elegant caution about the wrong way to change music, or indeed anything else.) E. Annie Proulx: Accordion Crimes: a gaudy and violent immigration chronicle, its widely separated stories tied together by the presence and action of its central "character"--a button accordion: Michael Krüger's The Cellist & Mark Salzman's The Soloist: two novels of maturation and music centering on the vicissitudes of young cellists, of all people, who relate to life and others in very different ways. [Not all will be novels, however. We'll have some variation, as it were:] Robert Browning, "Abt Vogeler" & Wallace Stevens, "Peter Quince at the Clavier": two classic poems of keyboards where one action--playing--is treated in very different ways. Jane Campion, The Piano: the film and script about culture in the antipodes. Anthony Burgess, On Mozart: a novelist/musician's attempt to render, in words, the letterless structures and glories of Mozart's G-minor Symphony (No. 40). Uri Caine Ensemble, Goldberg Variations: to point up the varieties of metamorphosis involved in dealing verbally with non-verbal melodies, we'll give a serious listen to Bach's works as they mutate into a bewildering number of other things. This should bring us back to Marsyas, who looked strangely clear and beautiful after his skinning--if more than a bit disturbing.


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