The Humanities

Humanities is a humanistic subject

Art, philosophy, religion, history, technology, literature, etc. are a continuous mixture of past and present indicating the views of the creator, the society, and the interpreter.

Humanities is a study of intellectual history


The liberal arts

What are they?


How does Humanities fit in with the liberal arts?




-Begins with Greeks

-Central Questions:

  1. How ought we to define Beauty?
  2. Can works of art impart knowledge?, and if so, what kind of knowledge?
  3. What are the functions of art (e.g., emotional, political, spiritual, ethical)?


        -Can tastes be disputed?

A) food?, B) politics?, c) art?


David Hume (1711-1776) Of the Standard of Taste 1760

-"Beauty is not a quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them"

-But, just as the faculty of eyesight can be better or worse depending on how we perceive the world, our sentiments for beauty can be better or worse.

-From Don Quixote: Two people taste wine: First  » wine is good but for a leathery taste. Second® wine is good but for iron taste. After emptying container, a small leathery band is wrapped around a rusty, iron key.  Who has the better taste? Is this the right kind of question? 

-"It is acknowledged to be a perfection of every sense or faculty, to perceive with exactness the most minute objects, and allow nothing to escape its notice and observation."


-True standard of taste and beauty: "strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice"

-Summary: sentiments may be subjective, but may be standardized and universalized.


Taste in the Humanities

Picasso, Bull's Head  (20th century)



Lascaux Bull, France (~18000 BCE)                                                               


Henry Moore, Reclining Figure (20th century)


Pauline Borghese (18th century)


Etruscan Sarcophagus (c. 500 BCE)



David Smith, Cubi VI (1961)


Michelangelo, David (~1500 CE)



 Ideas:Approaches to the Arts:

-use a method of analysis that works for the particular work

 -look at component parts and how they work together

 -place work in social, political, cultural context

-discover its purpose (intention)

-uncover how it was received by contemporaries

-learn iconography (subject matter of art object)

-investigate biographical remarks, which may include psychological revelations


Cro-Magnons (~30,000 years ago)


Why cave art?


Within control  (choice)  yet beyond control (other factors are necessary, natural cooperation)

  Woman of Willendorf                                            (EL) cussac cave woman 28000--22000bce



From hunting and gathering to agricultural settlements


Mesopotamia ("the land between rivers");

Famous Mesopotamian rulers:

1) Gilgamesh: r. ~2700 BCE



-Even the excellent and god-like face disappointment

-Women as seductresses

-Whims of gods affect our world

-Gilgamesh’s reaction to death is to seek to avoid it


            -The human search for wisdom; ingenuity


            -Human subjugation to the will of gods


            -The story of the flood

                       Gilgamesh flood tablet -

                        -Irrationality of nature implies irrationality of the gods (e.g., Enlil)

                        -the gods may differ (a problem with polytheism)

                        -found in story of Noah from Torah


  2) Gudea : r. ~2100 BCE: serious, but benevolent



3) Hammurabi: like Gudea, Hammurabi is benevolent, but there is a harshness to his famous code.






The Israelites


-Abraham, from Ur, rejects the religion of his region

-From many (irrational) gods within nature, Abraham’s God is one (rational) God beyond nature.

-Animistic polytheism with immanent gods turns to monotheistic belief in a transcendent god.


-God promises Abraham many descendents and ample land in turn for Abraham’s commitment to God.

     - But the Assyrians conquer the Israelites in 722 BCE, and the Babylonians conquer them in 587 BCE.

-diaspora (the scattering of the Jews after their captivity in Babylon)

-Psalm 137 : "By the rivers of Babylon…"

-the importance of a Jewish homeland and Middle East Peace in the 21st century

-Since the Israelites were bound by the commandment against graven images, they turned their attention to the written word.

-Cf. Matthews and Platt Exodus



-The Nile River makes farming relatively easy 

-Desert makes leaders better able to maintain order, control, and succession; you can’t run away!

-priests were learned, powerful; able to predict the behavior of the Nile

          -Annual flooding

  (EL) Nilemosaic Fortuna Sanctuary (Italy)

-religion was, for the most part, polytheistic and animistic


the gods are immanent-


Karnak Temple (in modern day Luxor; near Thebes)

Religious Issues and Legacy

-Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV) rejects polytheism

------- there is one God (Aton)

-Hymn to Aten (See Matthews and Platt)

-Israelites’ monotheism- compare with Egyptian monotheism

-Why did Akhenaten do this? For political reasons? For religious ones?

-Priests, as a result of the new monotheism, lose much of their authority and mandate

-Monotheism does not last much past Akhenaten’s death

-Akhenaten’s son: King Tutankhamen ; tomb

-Queen Nefertiti:

Queen Nefertiti c. 1340 BCE (Fig. 1.20)

Has she been found? (See website ‘Links of Interest’)

-Egyptian art, life and views of the afterlife

  (EL) MaAt Creates People from Mud of Nile
(EL) Hunefer Last Judgment  (EL) Triad of Khafre

Rahotep and Nofret

Religion and Khufu's Pyramid at Giza



Valley of the Mummies (video)

Bahariya Oasis-  ordinary people and their concern for the afterlife.

The Minoans

(EL) From  Palace of Minos

(EL) Thera Ship Fresco

The Mycenaeans

  Lion Gate

-Homer’s Iliad:

-Synopsis of excerpts (see Matthews and Platt)


-The epic form

-View of gods:

-View of women:

-Ethics: (Piety and Military Virtue)

  (EL) Ajax Suicide

(EL) Chigi Vase (Corinth 600 BCE)