Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Classical Epic and Medieval Romance

ENGL 229.401
MW 3:30-5:00pm

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 the Homeric poems, reading Iliad and Odyssey, and then we will see how Homeric themes are reprised in Virgil's narrative of travel, conquest, and empire, the Aeneid. From there we will move to one medieval epic of warfare, Beowulf. 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.

fulfills requirements