New professor strives for truth and meaning through classics


Photo by: Monica Torreblanca

Anyone who has met Franciscan University of Steubenville’s newest assistant professor of honors and classics knows that Theodore Harwood tells the truth when he says, “I am sort of addicted to the classics.”

In his new role as professor, Harwood teaches courses in Latin and literature as well as the freshman year of Franciscan’s Honors Great Books Program.

When describing his intellectual journey, Harwood said, “(In high school) I fell in love with a certain kind of literature and a feeling that a certain kind of literature produced, which was best represented to me by … the Tennyson poem ‘Blow, Bugle, Blow.’ That was something aesthetic that I really liked.”

Searching for meaning, Harwood read Cicero and Caesar in their original Latin while in high school.

“I realized there was something there that wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing (as other poetry), but there was a depth to it,” Harwood said. “And I think that was what I was after: I was after depth.”

Harwood described his adolescent self as “precocious” but went on to say that he wanted to escape the shallow world of the present, and he chased the most ancient things he could.

“I want the thing that goes all the way back and then work forward from there to the highest truths,” Harwood said.

Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” as among the oldest instances of literature in the western world, provide the starting point for any education in the classics, and Harwood has the opportunity to teach Homer to students in the literature course Epic and the Person and in first-semester Honors.

After graduating from Hillsdale College in 2011 with his bachelor’s degree in Latin with a Greek minor, Harwood earned his doctorate in classics with a concentration in ancient philosophy from Cornell University in May 2018.

After growing up Protestant, Harwood converted to Catholicism during his graduate school years.

Harwood said, “Once I went to Cornell, I got involved in an Anglican fellowship … and I had trouble defending the Anglo-Catholic synthesis on Anglican terms. Intellectually, what converted me (to Catholicism) was that there were some things that just seemed to me like they had to be true to make Christianity a stable system, but there was no way to defend them outside of Catholicism.”

Harwood said that “there had to be a way to unify what was good and what was beautiful and what was true,” and he believed he had found it in the Catholic philosophical tradition.

Harwood specializes in St. Augustine’s understanding of platonic philosophy.

When speaking on Plato’s idea that philosophy makes a good soul, Harwood thumbed through his well-read copy of Plato’s complete works to find the quote: “The lovers of learning know that philosophy gets hold of their soul,” which then allows a person to grow in virtue and wisdom, according to Harwood’s interpretation of the passage.

“What you want, ultimately, is the good … and the good is not something that you can easily explain,” Harwood said. “You only really know what it is when you see it for yourself.”

When Harwood read Augustine’s “Confessions” for a college class, he experienced for the first time the words of a book speaking directly to his personal experiences and being able to relate to his own life.

Several years later, Harwood’s dissertation organized Augustine’s main principles for biblical interpretation and argued for a position that he said is rarely taken by English-speaking scholars, noting that the topic is frequently discussed among French-speaking ones.

“There is communication between (countries, but) … to really engage in scholarship takes a lot of work and lot of attention,” Harwood said. Harwood’s work begins to close the gap in the English intellectual tradition.

When describing his search for a post-graduate position, Harwood said that he is continuously looking for “a unity of knowledge,” and his hopes for a future university included a relatively conservative, Christian school that specialized in the liberal arts. For Harwood, Franciscan fit that bill perfectly.

“I’m always going to like teaching intro Latin … and I’ve always wanted to teach Great Books,” Harwood said.

Harwood enjoys teaching his Honors Great Books classes because he himself gets to continue reading and learning from the best literature that the western intellectual tradition has to offer.

“The point isn’t to teach you about the books so that you have a final knowledge; the point is that you read the books so you can keep reading them … for the rest of your life.”

When asked what he would do with his free time, Harwood laughed and said, “Well, I really like my job a lot, actually. The ideal free time activity would be reading the (books) we read in Honors.”

Harwood argues that “there’s a subtler but longer-lasting pleasure that comes from intellectual activity.”