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Courses Taught

INTELLECTUAL HERITAGE (at Temple University)

Course Info:
Sample Syllabus


Course Themes

Delphi- A Focal Point for IH 51 Texts

Writing Guides:
Writing Guidelines

style guide

Writing Analogies

Subject Study Aids:
Aeschylus' Agamemnon Study Guide

Aeschylus' Libation Bearers Study Guide

Aeschylus' Eumenides Passages

Sophocles' Oedipus and the Sphinx Lecture

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles' Funeral Oration

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles and America

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles and Philadelphia

Dr. J's Illustrated Aeschylus' Oresteia

Dr. J's Curse of the House of Atreus Outline

Dr. J's Background Lecture on Greek Philosophy

Dr. J's Apology Study Questions

Dr. J's Illustrated Plato's Apology

Socrates and the Apology Lecture

Dr. J's Plutarch's Pericles

Judaism Study Guide

Sundiata Study Guide

Epic Qualities of the Sundiata Lecture

Othello Study Guide

Machiavelli Study Guide

Galileo and Humanism Lecture



Courses Proposed
(needs some pruning):

Topics in Classical Culture:
The Legend of the House of Atreus: Greek Tragedy in Greece

Religious Foundations of Greek Culture

The Intersection of Myth and History

The Ancient Greek Cultural Nexus- Art, Archaeology, Literature and Topography

From 1996-2001 I taught in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This page is part of my teaching materials for Intellectual Heritage 51, a course covering literature and ideas from Sappho through Shakespeare...

The Sundiata

An Outline by Dr. Janice Siegel


griot - meaning has changed. Now - one who sells his music/ballad skills to make a living. Then - was the archivist, recorder of customs, governmental principles of kings, "the keeper of the culture". Tutored kings' children, were as revered as harpers in Homer's day.

The Words of the Griot Mamadou Kouyaté:

His knowledge has been passed down through the generations...

"I teach kings the history of their ancestors so that the lives of the ancients might serve them as an example, for the world is old, but the future springs from the past."

Sundiata: the son of the Buffalo, the son of the Lion, Maghan Sundiata, Mari-Djata, Sogolon Djata, Naré Maghan Djata, the man of many names against whom sorcery could avail nothing.

The First Kings of Mali: typically, medieval Mulsim dynasties proved conx with Mohammed: Bilali Bounama was companion to Mohammed, and his son settled in Mali. Bilali's great-great-grandson made pilgrimage to Mecca, but survived miraculously and returned to Mali. Seven generations after this prince came Sundiata.

The Buffalo Woman:

Maghan Kon Fatta - father of Sundiata, King of Mali

Gnaukouman Doua: griot of the king

visitors give gift of the hunt (honor hunting god)

visitor is a seer (left-handed - superstition) - tells his future accurately

later...two hunters do exactly what the seer said they would, bring a hunchbacked woman to the king as his wife:

in land of Do, reward was offered for death of the wild buffalo - they met an old woman who claimed to be the buffalo (the sister of the king who refused her her inheritance). She gave very mysterious commands on how to kill it (herself) at a later date (draw the bow 3X, throw an egg - it will become a mire). One condition: choose the ugliest woman to marry ("You will choose her for she is my wraith. She will be an extraordinary woman if you manage to possess her").

Sogolon Kedjou, or Sogolon Kondouto (hunchback) - Sundiata's mother

wedding ceremony, but Naré Maghan cannot possess her...he tricks her into fainting and takes her, and a son is conceived.

The Lion Child:

Sassouma Bérété: first wife, very jealous, tries by sorcery to prevent his birth, no dice.

Naming of the infant:

            Maghan (after his father)

            Mari Djata (a name which no Mandingo prince has ever born)


"God has his mysteries which none can fathom. You, perhaps, will be a king. You can do nothing about it. You, on the other hand, will be unlucky, but you can do nothing about that either. Each man finds his way already marked out for him and he can change nothing of it." ISLAM

            Namandjé, another wife taken by Naré Maghan

            Manding Boukari, or Manding Bory, a half-brother to Sundiata, is born.

            Djamarou, another son, is born to Sogolon.

Gnaukouman Doua, the griot: "The Almighty has the mysteries...the silk-cotton tree emerges from a tiny seed...when the seed germinates growth is not always easy; great trees grow slowly but they plunge their roots deep into the ground." (cf Matthew)

Balla Fasséké: Naré Maghan gives his son a griot, the son of his own griot, preparing for a changing of the guard (Sundiata is still a child, though).

The Lion's Awakening: King dies. Doua dies. Son of 1st wife becomes king (Sundiata is a child), although the real ruler was his mother, who hated Sundiata. Baobab tree story. Sundiata receives the title of Simbon, or "master Hunter." He received a great education at the hands of his mother (sorcery, superstition, ways of man, medicinal plants...and Balla Fasséké (history of the kings...Alexander...).

Sassouma, 1st and jealous wife, tries to hire the nine great witches of Mali to kill Sundiata. They need a reason to do so, since "Life has a cause, and death as well. The one comes from the other. Your hate has a cause and your action must have a cause. Mother of the king, everything holds together, our action will have no effect unless we are ourselves implicated, but Mari Djata has done us no wrong. It is, then, difficult for us to compass his death." She sets it up so that Sundiata will berate the old women for picking his vegetables, but he shows benificence and earns their protection. It turns out his sister, Sogolon Kolonkan, is a sorceress looking after him.

Exile: Sogolon convinces Djata to leave to protect his siblings from the jealousy of Sassouma (Manding Bory has no gift for sorcery and is thus vulnerable). King Dankaran Touman (Naré Maghan's first son) is weak, ruled by his evil mother. He makes Djata's griot an envoy, separating them. Djata says he will leave this place, but return. He is 10 years old. In re Sassouma's plans: "We think we are hurting our neighbor at the time when we are working in the very direction of destiny. Our action is not us for it is commanded of us."  GOD'S PLAN. ISLAM

 7 years pass during the exile.

#1 visit: a sorcerer king who is willing to kill Sundiata for gold (Sassoume's attempt)

#2 visit: town whose prince was Fran Kamara, one of Sundiata's companions. Father is afraid of Sassoume, so suggests they go with merchants to Ghana. Sundiata promises to pick up Fran on his way back to Mali (after they have grown up!).

#3 visit: Wagadou, Ghana, whose people are descended from Alexander the Great - bad luck ever since man killed the snake jinn (protectress of the city) to save his beloved, its victim. Sogolon asks for "asylum with the Cissés of Wagadou." SUNDIATA IS NOW ELEVEN. Laws of hospitality are in force. They are welcomed. Purpose of passage - to show Sundiata developing leadership traits. Also, kinship between Ghana and Mali: "The friendship which unites Mali and Ghana goes back to a very distant age, as the elders and griots know. The people of Mali are our cousins." They left Wagadou because of Sogolon's ill health, but were treated royally.

#4 visit: trek to Mema with merchants by camel (unknown in Mali). On journey, Sundiata learns much about the Arab lands beyond Ghana and Alexander the Great...Upon arrival at Mema, are greeted by King's sister. He is out on campaign against neighbors. Children adapt well, go out hunting with friends...King returns. Sogolon and children are welcome - Sundiata goes out on 1st campaign. King sees it is Sundiata's destiny to rule; teaches him to be a warrior (Remember - King has no heir). Sundiata becomes Viceroy and rules the country. Soldiers (sofas) love him  - he is one of them, too. Now 18 - his destiny is not here, but in Mali.

Soumaoro Kanté, the Sorcerer king:

now ruling Mali (this is the sorcerer-king that made the merchants tremble with fear).

Soumaoro Kanté is sorcerer, and smith (master of fire - note 37 in the back of the book).

Sundiata's griot, Balla Fasséké, had been taken prisoner. One day he snuck into the tower and found the secret room (39) and began to play the balafon. Soumaoro *knew*. He improvised: "All hail, you who wear clothes of human skin. / I salute you, you who sit on the skins of kings." Instead of killing him, Soumaoro took Balla as his griot, making war between Soumaoro and Sundiata "inevitable".

History: "It is the griot who rescues the memories of kings from oblivion..."

            kingdom of Sosso - enemy of Islam

            Soumaoro - an evil demon - broke every rule of civilized people - defiled young girls, broke up families, humiliated old men, killed kings, sat on seats made from their skin...

Soumaoro makes an enemy of his nephew, who vows vengeance - plans to rally with others disgusted by him. Dankaran Touman immediately joins him, but is routed by Soumaoro, and flees to safety. He always was a coward. S. destroys Niane (Sundiata's hometown in Mali), takes over, but nobody wants him.  Seers determine that the "rightful heir" would save Mali. Now to find him. They go out searching. Big names include:

            Kountoun Manian - old griot from court of Naré Maghan

            Mandjan Bérété - brother of Sassouma

            Singbin Mara Cissé  - a divine of the court

            Siriman Touré - another divine

            Magnouma -  a woman

The Baobab Leaves: Mandjin Berete and retinue go from village to village trying to sell Malian vegetables - finally, Sundiata's sister Kolonkan leads them to Sundiata. They bring news of Mali's desperation and that only Sundiata can save Mali. Sogolon dies and the king of Mema is angry that Sundiata wants to leave for Mali ("after all I have done for you!"), so he refuses him the right of burying her in Mema. Then, he says, OK, but for a price. Sundiata brings back a bowl of broken stuff and the remains of destruction as the price he is willing to pay - signifying the wasteland Mema will be if the king makes him pay for the land in which to bury his mother. The king gets the point, gives Sundiata land to bury his mother in. Smart king.

The Return:

- Sundiata leaves Mema with one-half the army, including cavalry.

- He also gains one-half the cavalry of Wagadou.

- Soumaoro tries to block Sundiata's approach to Tabon (where his friend Fran Kamara was now king and had risen against Soumaoro in expectation of Sundiata's heralded arrival). Sundiata attacks and routs the enemy, narrowly missing killing Sosso Balla, Soumaoro's son. Afterward, a reunion with Fran Kamara and joyous entry into Tabon.

- Sundiata adds to his army three tribes from Tabon.

- Battle at Neguéboria - Sundiata was winning, but when he tried to attack Soumaoro, he found his magic too great. Another method was needed to defeat him.

- Battle of Kankigne - Sossa surprise attacked at night, were fended off by the Wagadous firing flaming arrows into the sky so that they fell on the enemies' backs.

The Names of the Heroes: Sundiata greets all the allies gathered at Sibi: "I have come back, and as long as I breathe Mali will never be in thrall - rather death than slavery. We will live free because our ancestors lived free. I am going to avenge the indignity that Mali has undergone." EPIC CONTENT -  an EPIC CATALOGUE

Nana Triban and Balla Fasséké:

            Sundiata knew he had to overcome S's magical power to win. Nana Triban (Sundiata's half-sister, become Soumaoro's wife) and griot, Balla, escape from Sossa: they got the secret to his magic power. She asked him if he were a man or jinn...in pride, he revealed his secret to her. The various heroes perform various deeds worthy of being retold later by a griot.


the rest of the outline and too, notes on the epic qualities of the Sundiata, Islamic qualities of the Sundiata, and a student's research on the nature of Sundiata's power over Soumaoro.

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 10/25/2005
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