English 180E

The Epic

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2018 Nolan, Maura
TTh 12:30-2 170 Barrows

Book List

Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde; Homer: Iliad; Homer: Odyssey; Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida; Virgil: Aeneid


Homer’s Iliad was composed in the eighth century BCE. Both the story that it narrated (the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans) and the particular form that the story took (the genre of the epic) would become foundational building blocks of the Western literary tradition. This course will follow these two threads from antiquity to the Renaissance. We will read the story of Troy and the Trojans as it was told and retold by the Greeks (Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey), the Romans (Virgil’s Aeneid), in the Middle Ages (Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde), and in Elizabethan England (Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida). At the same time, we will see what happens to the genre of epic over time, as historical circumstances change and cultural priorities shift. We will define what we mean by “epic,” as well as what Homer, Virgil, Chaucer, and Shakespeare meant when they invoked the genre. Each of these texts imagines a world of possibilities and limitations; we will compare those freedoms and unfreedoms, what is speakable and unspeakable in Homer’s world versus Virgil’s world versus Chaucer’s world versus Shakespeare’s world. We will ask ourselves how the epic as a genre contributes to shaping the limitations and possibilities imagined by these texts.

This course satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

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