Homer Manfred Rieth was born in Stuttgart in 1947, of German and Georgian parents. He came to Australia in 1952. He was educated at Padua and Assumption Colleges and, following a short period in the Jesuit novitiate at Loyola, Watsonia, at the University of Melbourne. Since 1999 he has made his home in the Wimmera township of Minyip.
He has been a teacher of Greek and Roman literature and philosophy, English literature and medieval and modern history. He has traveled through Mediterranean lands, including a sojourn in the monasteries of the Holy Mountain of Athos in Greece and has tutored in Spain and the UK. He lectured in Classical Studies in the Greek-Australia Centre at RMIT University, and also held the Honorary Chair of the Melbourne Poets Union. He has three daughters and a son.
His awards include the Deakin Literary Society Prose Prize (1994) and the Australian Poetry Cup (1998). His collection The Dining Car Scene was published in 2001.
Wimmera is an epic poem spanning over three hundred pages. He completed a Doctorate in Creative Literature at the University of Ballarat, which incorporated an earlier version of Wimmera and an exegesis exploring the history of the epic genre and its relationship to Australian landscape poetry. He is currently researching materials for a second epic, The Garden of Earthly Sorrows, a sustained poetic rhapsody and tone poem, with accompanying musical score, for which he received a grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council for 2010 and from Arts Victoria in 2012 (see below).
While working on The Garden of Earth Rieth has completed a collection of sonnets, 150 Motets, published by Black Pepper in 2013.
In 2013 Homer Rieth won the Max Harris Poetry Award from the University of South Australia for his poem ‘Ode to Evening’. The judges were Judith Beveridge and Kevin Brophy. Their comments were:
A poem that manages to be musical, receptive to the world, deeply metaphoric, and incisive about values all at once. The sustained rhythm, repetition and detailed imagery are beautifully alluring and hypnotic. The poet keeps the poem buoyant and elegant through use of long-breathed line that enacts time's cyclical movements. The poet demonstrates exquisite control of craft and subject matter.
Minyip Philosophical Society
Farmers and retirees in 'Minyip Philosophical Society' begin 'master's' degree in rural Victoria
A group of farmers, working professionals and retirees in a small Victorian grain town will this year begin their master's degrees in Western philosophy.
Audio: Dr Homer Rieth describes the creation and success of Minyip Philosophical Society in rural Victoria, now with 24 members. (ABC Rural)
They will not receive a certificate, as the course is not recognised by authorities.
They will not write an essay, nor sit any exam.
In fact the only official part of the course is their lecturer, former philosophy professor Dr Homer Rieth, who has been running free classes in Minyip for five years.
"I took the view that I was going to give them the virtual equivalent of a fully-fledged university course," he said.
"I said to them, at the beginning of the fourth year, 'think of yourselves as now doing your Honours year'.
"At the beginning of this year, the fifth year, I said 'you're now starting your MA."
Dr Rieth has a doctorate in literature and is known for his 'epic' — a poem extending over 360 pages — titled Wimmera.
Philosophy has been at the centre of his life since the 1960s and he spent more than a decade lecturing at RMIT University.
But 17 years ago the philosopher and author traded in a Melbourne life of academia, for a house in "the heart of the wheat belt": Minyip.
"For many years I just resigned myself to the fact that philosophy was something I would still continue to read and love in my own time," he said.
"But after some years of living in this small town, here the Wimmera, it became almost a pressing need to answer this feeling of wanting to give something back."
'Free port and sherry' and a bit of Greek philosophy
Dr Reith put an advertisement in Minyip's Lion's Club newsletter, offering to teach a three-month course in Greek philosophy.
"I thought, I better put in an incentive at the end of the advertisement," he said.
"So I added the rider 'Free port and sherry served after every lecture'.
"I thought, if nothing else that will get two or three stragglers to come."
Dianne Connelly was among eight people who turned up for the first class.
"I don't think it was anything really more than a case of going to support somebody that was trying something new," Ms Connelly said.
That was five years ago.
Within months Dr Rieth's classes morphed into the 'Minyip Philosophical Society' and instead of a three-month crash course he decided to cover the entire history of western philosophy.
In 2016 there are 24 members, including a list of farmers.
"We have retired farmers [and] we have active farmers," Ms Connelly said.
"Jock certainly enjoys it and we enjoy his wife's cooking.
"John would be in his 70s, but he's still farming."
Neither Jock's nor John's wife attends the classes.
"I don't know why," Ms Connelly said.
'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent' — Ludwig Wittgenstein
The murmurings of Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein could well be the catchcry of Minyip Philosophical Society, which shatters stereotypes of rural communities.
"People, and that well may include me, continually underestimate people who live in the bush," Dr Rieth said.
"They tend to think of them being less educated or even uneducated.
"Classic stereotypes [include] block heads living in the back blocks and country cousins who are thick heads and don't know anything except how to grow wheat or run sheep.
"They couldn't be further from the truth."
Ms Connelly agreed.
"I've found city people to be far more closed-minded than country people," she said.
"I would say that the intelligence level of most of the people that live in Minyip is probably higher, on average, than people that live in a city or a large regional town."
'Leisure is the mother of philosophy' — Thomas Hobbes
If there is no degree at the end of it and no pathway to a new career, why does this group exist?
The simple answer, according to Dr Reith, is to enjoy the art of philosophy.
"It is the intellectual adventure of mankind," he said.
"Philosophy asks us, invites us, in fact compels us, to open our minds in such an unafraid fashion that we are prepared to countenance any idea.
"What meaning does my life have? Of what significance are my relationships? What is my place in this universe?
"Through the study of philosophy, their whole view of the world could change."
Homer Rieth: Interview ABC Radio Darwin Sunday 17 January 2016
Ode to Evening... On a Theme by Walt Whitman
for Ken Smeaton
The streets keep to themselves, calm, unperturbed, almost halcyon
you could say... they mirror the spirit of the moving-water silences
of Golden Plains, descending over Navigators in the slipstream, drifting into rain—
quiet as cloud-flecks above Brown Hill and Mount Helen, floating by (where the towers are watchers
of the clay pans)... quiet as the afternoon light turning alluvial... quiet as the cumulus
milting over Mount Emu... and suddenly it is evening—
it puts the minds of ghosts to rest—the air being cool and clear and almost
windless... you could call it a perfect evening (in its way) only now familiar things seem
stranger than strangeness itself, and that which was the wheat, has become the chaff—
and truly I would say, ‘hope springs...’ as if it were a mantra, were it not that the word ‘eternal’
(sounding more preternatural than it used to) catches on the tongue,
as unremitting as tomorrow—
and yet they are still there, Napoleons, Rokewood, the road to Cape Clear—
sequestrated in time, like these trees, serried and canopied in their orders of stillness,
in the auroras of evening above Memorial Arch—where the dead are honoured in their stoic refusals—
yet, to trees it must seem that change is all—the irremediable vanity, and since all things
are things of rise and fall, can anything ever reconcile with itself, or leave its trace
in the dust of the sempiternal?—
only trees themselves, perhaps, the grace of their introspections, as seen among
the elms and maples ofWindermere and Ascot Street—with their candelabras of perfect cut,
their leafy polyhedrons of shade—a life beyond the human world;
in the Botanic Gardens, the prime ministers seek leave to cross, on a point of order,
that last threshold of nostalgia—to become like these trees
(Ashbery’s or ours?) monumental, you might say—but as it is, they resemble
the 21stcentury on the make—and all the while on Webster Street
it is evening and it seems to me the streets are still keeping to themselves—
calm, unperturbed, almost halcyon, you could say... and now the lake water birds are coming
into their own reflection, and from narrow synclines and anticlines of bluestone
I hear young boys on their skateboards, curling the concrete,
cutting it fine, as intricate as the future—
I doubt not that Mount Disappointment still appeals, since it never fails
to disappoint—and English gardens, retreating into orders of virtue, are still orders
of obsession, for the idea of magnolias may at any moment again
take hold of the mind—perhaps it is not the words we cannot say, but the words
we cannot find, that undo us—and we shall be, like shadows
cast by shadows, what we have failed to become—and that is no small thing,
to watch the world we have known and loved, unraveling—
for now, in ‘the bunker’, day after day, I am a book that is being remaindered,
a periodicity in which the rarefaction of all elements has been arrived at, with zero resistance—
the linear accelerator moving with animal patience, rotates its tuned-cavity through routines
of high voltage waves— the light is ‘Mariana Trench’ rather than ‘meadow’ green,
unnerving lifelong symmetries—
thus you may understand how I am minded to dwell upon the moving-water silences
of Golden Plains, in the slipstream—for when evening falls, it is then you begin to see
what they mean, the words in the line, ‘Night’—as Walt hymned it—‘sleep, death and the stars.’
In ‘A Clear Midnight’, their mysteries are unending, their origins are spoken for
and were, before the world began—in a way that we may never fathom—they are calm, unperturbed,
almost halcyon, you could say.
Writer Rieth Wins $10,000 Research Grant
Carly Werner, Wimmera Mail Times, 7 September 2012
Minyip writer Homer Rieth has won a $10,000 grant to help develop his latest work. The Arts Victoria Arts Development program grant will help Mr Rieth cover costs associated with travel, research and field work for his epic poem The Garden of Earthly Sorrows. The poem focuses on the Murray Darling and Mr Rieth estimated it would be more than 400 pages long once finished.
‘I applied for the grant in February and had to wait about six months and hope I would be successful,’ he said; ‘It is a four to five-year project and I am about halfway through... I have visited mainly the Murray but I haven’t been much further than that as I haven’t had the means to do it, which is why I applied for the grant....‘Some time next year I will go up the Darling.’
Dr Rieth’s project is one of 67 across the state to share in almost $770,000 worth of grants. The grants are given for an 18-month period. Dr Rieth — who was born in Stuttgart, Germany — also wrote the epic poem Wimmera, which took four years and was released in 2009. He won the Deakin Literary Society Prose Prize in 1994 and has been the Honorary Chair of the Melbourne Poets Union.
He said his new work focused on the Murray Darling river system, landscape and the literary history of the region. ‘It also looks at the bigger questions about the future of the Murray Darling - there is a political level to the poem as well,’ he said. Dr Rieth said the poem would be made into a book and released through Black Pepper Publishing. He also has a new book coming out called 150 Motets which will be released in time for Christmas.
Homer Reith and the Minyip Philosophy Society
The launch of 150 Motets was held at the scheduled meeting of the Minyip Philosophical Society. Homer founded the Society as his way of contributing to the community which has supported him. Anne Ashton has given us a description of the workings of the Society:
The Philosophers Whiteboard
Richard and I joined Homer’s Philosophy group about April 2011 at the end of the first short set of lectures and at the beginning of the on-going lectures.
The Ancient Greeks were still the main topic. Slowly, slowly, Homer progressed through the philosophers, mostly in chronological order. Of course, questions could easily distract Homer from the topic of the day but Homer has the wonderful ability to return to the original topic.
In the beginning the plan was to cover the history of philosophy of the Western world in a weekly session over about a year. Two years later we are just scratching the surface of this vast subject. Homer’s knowledge of detail of the history of philosophy may take us forever to extract!
Homer has had what I would call an informed and daunting audience including Christians, both Catholic and Protestant and free thinkers. One of our members is a pastor; another, a doctor, who has also been a missionary in New Guinea; another enthusiastic man from Adelaide drives here when he can (a 900 km round trip)! Homer has withstood a barrage of probing questions. Always, it has appeared that he has satisfied the questioner without antagonising any others however sensitive the answers might have been. Homer is very diplomatic.
Last year, as you would know, Homer was ill and we really missed our Friday session whilst he recovered. Now Homer is much better and is as enthusiastic as always. He has even put on some weight! We are delighted that Homer again conducts these philosophy sessions and we hope he continues for many years to come.
Richard has made a practice of photographing the whiteboard at the end of each session. A couple of these wonderful illustrations have been attached. Although they are difficult to decipher, even if you were there during their creation, they jog memories and often more questions. At the end of the lecture the whiteboard shows Homer’s depth of knowledge and his understanding of the complexities of philosophy and philosophical thought throughout history. To a third party they may be unintelligible!
Homer has given his time for no charge to the benefit of the local community. We all appreciate this and have the greatest respect for his amazing intellect and his willingness to share the knowledge he has acquired over a lifetime.
Homer is unique!
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