Epic Tradition: Epic, Romance, Myth
Ancient epic and mythology had a curious and rich afterlife in the Middle Ages. Virgil and Ovid were taught in medieval schools, read for their moral content, and revered as fiction that concealed great philosophical value. Their influence also gave rise to the great literary form of the Middle Ages, romance: narratives that place a premium on erotic love, individual quests, the unpredictability of adventure, and imaginary or exotic settings. Yet despite what may appear to be merely gratifying entertainment, myth and romance did tremendous cultural work, enabling profound explorations of history, political values, ethnic identity, gender and sexuality, and social power.
We will spend some weeks reading Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Heroides and Metamorphoses. Then we will turn to medieval reimaginings of classical myth and metamorphosis, including poetry by Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, and Chaucer, and anonymous works such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
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).