WARREN TWP. – Freshman English students at Watchung Hills Regional High School received a bonus on Monday, Nov. 23: A lesson in the Greek epic poem, “The Odyssey” by Homer, given by guest lecturer, Isaiah Clough, a Rutgers University graduate student most of the way along to earning a Ph.D. in the Classics.
It is the second year that Clough has helped first-year students at Watchung Hills have a better understanding of one of the staples of their freshman English curriculum: The Odyssey. The freshman English curriculum explores the theme of the hero’s journey. Clough is the husband of Watchung Hills English teacher Vanessa Phillips.
Clough focused his lesson on helping students achieve a clearer understanding of the progression of the Odyssey’s lead character, Odysseus. Odysseus is a Greek King who wandered for years on his way home from The Trojan War. As Clough pointed out, Odysseus’ wanderings were not just the physical journey from here to there, but also a personal journey of development toward being not just a hero in war, but to becoming what constituted a true hero in Ancient Greece. The true hero was a warrior dedicated to his family, who adheres to Greek values such as loyalty, faithfulness, and a sense of community.
Along the way home from war, Odysseus is waylaid by three female characters according to the epic: Cerce, Calypso and Naucsicaa. Each stop is a living-learning challenge that Odysseus uses to perfect his embracing of these heroic Greek values.
After first showing the Watchung Hills students the opening lines of The Odyssey as written in the Ancient Greek, Clough asked the students to listen as he read aloud the opening lines in Greek. He explained that The Odyssey, and the companion epic poem, “The Iliad” by Homer, were originally heard, and passed on as an oral tale, rather than a written text. The Greeks memorized them, passed them on, and eventually wrote them down. Since then and to this very day, students have read them, and literary scholars have studied them.
He said that the Odyssey and the Iliad are among the first pieces of Western Literature to survive from the time of Ancient Greece, thousands of years B.C. (Before Christ). Modern Western Literature, and Western Literature down through the ages, has drawn vocabulary, themes and metaphorical references from the literature of Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. In reading through the opening lines of The Odyssey, Clough pointed out words and concepts that form the basis of modern words and concepts in English, including for example, muses/music, anthropology, and psychology.
Clough said his Ph. D. studies requires him to be proficient in reading the original Greek, translating from the original Greek, and being able to speak aloud the original texts as audiences in ancient Greece most likely heard them. He told the students that this is the way he does his research, and where he finds areas of the appreciation and nuance in the classics from which he hopes to add his own original scholarship about them.
His own odyssey into the study of the Homeric Epics, Clough said, started with his fascination as a child with the tales from Classic mythologies. He remembered that when he was first in college, thinking about maybe studying business. He had to fill in an “elective” course slot, and noticed there was an introductory Classic class available. During subsequent semesters in college, he opted for other electives in the Classics. Eventually, it became apparent his true interest was not in business but in the Classics.
His master’s degree was in Philology, with a focus on the language and literature of the Classics. He completed a 70-page thesis for his master’s degree. At Rutgers, his concentration is on The Iliad and The Odyssey. Clough asked classes to break up into smaller mini-research groups, before coming back together to conclude with a full class discussion and questions about his experience as a graduate student.
Clough is a graduate of Tucson Magnet High School, Tucson, Ariz. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and is pursuing his Ph.D., at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.