The OF Blog: Seminal works

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seminal works

Just finished reading Plato's The Republic earlier this morning.  It has left me with much to consider; the upcoming review will be a challenge.  It is a seminal work, one of those rare pieces that take the disparate threads of earlier conversations and weave them into something so powerful and influential that a whole host of conversations, whether they be in person, on paper, in prose, poetry, or drama, springs from it.

There are several other such seminal works whose seeds sprout forth a plethora of responses in literature, music, and the other arts.  Which works do you consider to be "seminal" and why?  Seems like 2011 will be the year of seminal readings for me and I'd like to add to the number already read.  Maybe others will be inspired as well, so give what you think are seminal works in a variety of fields, por favor!


Anonymous said...

I studied Classics for four years in college (not too long ago). I actually read the Republic in one of my first Ancient Greek courses. More than any other work I read during that time or since, I feel like I've benefited most from reading several books of the Bible along with some commentary and Jewish/early Christian history. Understanding the roots of religious belief is so important in this day and age - not just the beliefs of our own cultures, but those of others, too. How many of us actually understand the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, an Episcopalian and a Lutheran, a Sunni and a Shi'ite, or even a Muslim and a Jew? The answers are so complicated, but it's our responsibility to try to grasp them. I would say the Bible and the Qur'an are the most provocative books I've read, if only because so much of our history and present circumstances rest on these two books - but I hasten to add that they should be read in good translations, with a variety of commentaries from knowledgeable and trustworthy sources. If you've never read the Bible before, you might be surprised at how many times you can find yourself uplifted, excited, bored, revolted, and confused by what so many claim to be a clear and unified work.

Larry Nolen said...

Very good points. I'd add that in the translation I read (from the early 20th century, if memory serves, as I don't have the book with me), the translator/commentator observed at the end of Book X that so much of the New Testament changes in meaning when perceived as works written in dialogue with Platonic thought. Uncertain of that myself, but I certainly shall keep it in mind when I do read passages from there in the future.

Eric said...

Greco-Roman Mythology (by which I mean Homer, Ovid, and the entire written corpus of the those ancient tales), The Bible, and the plays of Shakespeare. I feel these works make up the core of literature. They are such seminal works that in almost any book written after them you'll find some reference or allusion to one, if not all of these works of literature/authors, at some point in a text.

Chaucer - For demonstrating the power of English as a literary language.

Chad Hull said...

In regards to music I've never though Beethoven's first symphony gets a fraction of the credit it deserves. At the time, symphony was how you announced yourself as a composer on the largest platform; only opera would be comparable (and Beethoven was decidedly not a vocalist's composer).

He was a life-long slave to 'classical sonata form' but the audience had to be scratching theirs heads at the first performance. He starts with the wrong tempo, which is really jarring in itself if you know the form. He also begins on a dominate seven of the wrong key! The significance of that can't be overshadowed; I'd be amazed if some people didn't stand up and claim, "Shenanigans!" while the music was playing.

It's hard to put into context to today's crowd especially if they don't listen to classical music. Furthermore, classical music wasn't classical music at the time... I don't think it was a seminal work per se but one that defined him as a composer.

He was never able to break free from form, but from the very beginning he was trying as hard as he could, and toward the end of his life, damned if he didn't come close.

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