In this course on ancient and medieval epic we will track the literary compulsion to return to the Trojan War. The “matter of Troy” provided ancient and medieval writers with a rich resource for reflections on war and violence, on the power and vulnerability of states, on personal and communal suffering, and on how history is written. We will begin with the Homeric Iliad along with other ancient Greek uses of the Trojan myth; we will read Virgil’s refashioning of the Trojan story as the new beginnings of a triumphant Roman history; and then we will consider how medieval writers, including Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Robert Henryson, shaped and contended with the myth of Troy. In the hands of late medieval writers, Troy becomes a literary site for the transformation of epic into the genre of romance.
The course requirements will be: one very short oral presentation on a research topic of your choice related to the reading, together with a short write-up of your research; one short critical paper; and one longer research paper (which can develop the subject of your oral presentation).