The Great Conversation 35th Anniversary: Greece and Italy

June 8–23, 2015
Led by Karen Cherewatuk, Professor of English and Director of Great Conversation, and Anne Groton, Professor of Classics
$5,685 per person, double occupancy (see inclusions below)

The Great Conversation, St. Olaf’s interdisciplinary program in the Western humanities, engages students in the study of influential books and works of art, from ancient times to the present. To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Great Con, we invite you to come travel with us in two of the countries that gave birth to the great conversation: Greece and Italy.

We’ll begin our three-night stay in Athens with a tour of the Acropolis, including the Areopagus, where St. Paul addressed the Athenians, and the Theater of Dionysus, where Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and other renowned playwrights competed. After a walk through the Agora, where Socrates engaged his fellow citizens in philosophical dialogue, we will discuss the inspired ideas of Plato and Aristotle over ouzo. The last day will include a visit to the world-famous National Archaeological Museum and a spectacular drive to Cape Sounion, as we follow in the footsteps of Lord Byron.

Next, we’ll travel by coach to the Peloponnese, stopping to visit the fascinating remains of Roman Corinth along the way. We will spend two nights in the quaint town of Nauplion while exploring the Homeric citadels of Tiryns and Mycenae and testing the perfect acoustics of the theater at Epidaurus. After a daytime tour and overnight stay at Olympia, site of the original Games, we will cross the Gulf of Corinth to put our questions to the oracle of Delphi and then return to Athens.

At the end of our week in Greece, we will fly out of Athens to Rome. There we’ll stay for three nights at a hotel within walking distance of the major monuments of pagan and Christian Rome—from the Forum and the Colosseum to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. We will marvel at such treasures as the speaker’s platform from which Cicero defended the Roman Republic, the Sistine Chapel ceiling on which Michelangelo depicted Biblical history, and Bernini’s statues at the Villa Borghese which freeze Ovid’s ancient myths in marble.

We’ll then head south, with detours along the way to Hadrian’s villa and St. Benedict’s monastery on Monte Cassino, and arrive at Sorrento. This beautiful seaside city will serve as our base as we make day-trips to the haunting remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the base of Mt. Vesuvius. In Naples, where the Latin poet Vergil retired, we will have the opportunity to view the impressive art collection in the National Archaeological Museum.

Finally, we will drive back to Rome via Ostia Antica, where St. Augustine and his mother Monica shared an experience of the invisible God. After a farewell dinner in Rome, we will leave the Eternal City and conclude our conversation—for now.

While this program is designed for alumni of the Great Conversation, it is open to all who are interested in the intersection of literature and art in their historical settings. A list of recommended readings (re-readings for Great Con alums) will be distributed ahead of time.

Program Leaders

Karen Cherewatuk (Ph.D., Cornell University), Professor of English, has taught at St. Olaf since 1986. A specialist in medieval literature, she has published three books on the Arthurian legends and on the writings of medieval women. In addition to leading six interims abroad on the Literature of the Eastern Caribbean (in Barbados, Trinidad, and St. Lucia), she has traveled in Europe and India. She will lead the Global Semester in fall, 2014. Karen has taught in five cycles of the Great Conversation and served as program director for six years.

Anne Groton (Ph.D., University of Michigan), Professor of Classics, has taught at St. Olaf since 1981. A specialist in ancient Greek and Roman comedy, she directs student productions of Plautus and writes textbooks in Beginning Greek and Beginning Latin. She has led the Classics interim abroad in Greece (sometimes also Rome) eleven times and has traveled on her own in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. Anne has survived three cycles of the Great Conversation and continues to serve on its steering committee.

What to Expect

Greece and Italy are a mix of modern and rustic. Large cities have all the usual amenities, while smaller towns and rural areas may feel like a step back in time, with an unhurried air, and warm, friendly people.

Neither country is fully handicapped accessible. Though we will transfer between cities by air-conditioned private motor coach, you should be prepared for lots of walking. Greece and Italy are full of tiny streets — places a bus just can’t get to. To fully participate in this program, you should be capable of walking a minimum of one mile at a time over uneven terrain and up to five miles per day, of climbing stairs that may not have handrails, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of traveling, of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing a different culture, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day.

Hotels will be tourist class (typically three or four star) with private baths, air conditioning, and English-speaking staff.

The weather in both countries should be generally delightful during our time there — 60s (Fahrenheit) in the evenings, 75-85 during the day. In Greece the humidity is fairly low, which means the shade offers relief. You may wish to bring a small umbrella in case of the occasional rain shower.

Most days, we will depart the hotel between 8 and 9 a.m. and do our group visits throughout the morning. Occasionally we will have lunch together, more often not. Sometimes we will continue touring after lunch; on other days there will be some free time. Some days will have several hours of free time; others will have very little or none at all.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit or

Program Fee

The program fee is $5,685 per person, until January 31, 2015. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by Karen Cherewatuk and Anne Groton, accommodations, breakfast daily and group meals as listed on the itinerary, admissions for group activities, ground transportation (except for airport transfers), the flight from Athens to Rome, and gratuities to group guides, drivers, and meal servers. After January 31, 2015, the program fee is $5,835 per person. At any time, add $685 for single occupancy.

Airfare from your home town to Athens and from Rome back home is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses include: international airfare • airport transfers • any passport or visa fees • any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • accident / baggage / trip cancellation insurance • beverages, including at group meals • laundry • dry cleaning • phone charges • room service or other items of a personal nature • expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities • lunch and dinner, unless specifically included on program itinerary.

Making your Flight Arrangements
Please plan to depart the U.S. on Monday, June 8, 2015 in order to arrive in Athens on June 9, preferably by mid-afternoon. Plan to depart from Rome any time on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.

For assistance with flight arrangements, may we recommend Noreen Deiss of Travel Leaders. She can be reached at 651-429-0039 or