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Topics in Classicism and Medieval Literature: Epic and Romance

ENGL 229.401
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:

This course looks at a number of strands in the broad epic tradition:
narratives of warfare, quest narratives (both geographical and spiritual),
and the combination of the two in narratives of chivalry and love. We will
start with Homer, reading good portions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and
then see how Homeric themes are reprised in Virgil's narrative of travel,
conquest, and empire, the Aeneid. We will then look at St. Augustine's
Confessions, which has some claim to being considered an "epic" of
spiritual discovery, and consider how Augustine reflects back upon his
classical narrative sources. From there we will move to one medieval epic
of warfare, conquest, and empire, the Song of Roland, which emerges
from the same kind of oral poetic culture that produced the ancient
Homeric epics. In the last part of the course we will read some Arthurian
romances, which take up certain themes familiar from epic, but place them
in a new context: the medieval institution of chivalry, where the ancient
warrior is replaced by the medieval knight, where the collective battle is
replaced by the individual quest, and where the psychology of sexual
desire is now foregrounded as a motivation for heroic self-realization.


Assignments will include short papers and a final group research
assignment (oral report panels and individual write-ups of the research
project).