English 166

Special Topics: Epic Poetry

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2022 Delehanty, Patrick
MW 2-5 20 Wheeler C


This course will be a thorough investigation of one of the most important poetic forms in literary history: the epic poem. The epic poem in the period we will be looking at, which ranges from 20 BC to the 1660’s AD, held a prominence far above any other literary form, and was seen as the greatest height a poet could attain. But in addition to the status of the epic as an ornate and finely crafted work of literary art, we will use our readings to investigate a famous definition of the epic as offered by Ezra Pound, that the epic is “a poem containing history.” 

Through close readings of three epics, Virgil’s Aeneid, The first section of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as selections from other epics, we will be able to see how the epic, even more so than other literary forms, became the most potent literary expression of historical narrative, and how each epic stands in relation to the history and development of the form. Along the way, we will consider the literary devices that became so important to the epic tradition, especially epic simile, the relationship between the epic and the representation of politics and empire, and the desire on the part of all of our authors to enumerate a religious ethic in a narrative poem, and it’s influence on the development of the novel.

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