The wrath of Achilles and the deeds of the Trojan War have been sources of inspiration for poets and artists since at least the time of Homer’s Iliad (c. 760 - 710 BC). Our course will begin with the Iliad, the single most important source for representations of the war, before launching on an itinerary that takes in some of the most important responses to the war written in English. These will include Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385), William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602), Derek Walcott’s Omeros (1990), and Alice Oswald’s Memorial (2011). With each text we will investigate how exactly the story of Troy is written into the author’s own particular time and place, what strategies each author deploys to represent the valiance and horror of warfare, and how elements of Homer’s story withdraw and return across time. The central questions we will ask are: how do you represent the unrepresentable violence of warfare? How does this change over time? Why has the Trojan War remained such an enduring topic? Given the broad scope of our course, no previous experience with any of the material is required.
As this course is designated a Junior Research Seminar, there will be several assignments throughout the semester designed to prepare you for the kinds of research conducted in literary studies. The course will culminate with a final independent research project of 12-15 pages. These projects could pursue elements of the poem’s legacy we haven’t covered, particularly those of different time periods and media, such as Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or film adaptations of the war, such as the Brad Pitt-starring Troy (2004), engage with one element of the narrative across time, such as the representation of Cassandra, or approach the topic from a different angle entirely. We will develop these projects over the course of the semester. Given that adaptation is one of the thematic strands of our course, creative final projects that adapt any of our texts or respond to the Trojan War in compelling ways are welcomed.