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EL45ET: CLASSICAL EPIC (2014-2015)

Last modified: 28 Jun 2018 10:27

Course Overview

We will read (in English translation) what are arguably the most influential texts of world literature, and among the most exciting tales ever told. We begin in ancient Greece with Homer’s two contrasting epics—the Iliad’s dark vision of human mortality, and the Odyssey’s meditation on the enchantment of story-telling. Moving to classical Rome, we shall see how Virgil transformed the genre into a monument to imperial power, and how it is thrown into disarray by Ovid’s fantastical and irreverent epic of endless change. We end with Lucan’s magnificent lament for lost freedom in a tyrannical age.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 4
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 30 credits (15 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Syrithe Pugh

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Course Description

Course Aims: To study, in English translation, the most important classical examples of epic poetry, a genre which was to exert an incalculable influence on conceptions of literature throughout the subsequent Western history. In our analysis of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Lucan's Pharsalia, we shall combine formal and historicist approaches to pursue questions about the relations between humanity and the gods, history and myth, and society and poetry. Main Learning Outcomes: By the end of the course, students will be familiar with some of the most important and influential texts of the Western tradition. They will be equipped to discuss the range of ways in which these texts respond to and help to shape fundamental social, political and religious ideas of their periods, and will have a more rounded and nuanced understanding of the diversity and complexity of a genre frequently caricatured as monologistic. They will have acquired knowledge of key concepts concerning the relation between aesthetic form and historical context, and have been introduced to different ways of thinking about intertextuality and imitation. They will have developed their own powers of literary analysis and critical argument. Content: On this course we will read what are arguably the most influential texts of world literature and among the most exciting tales ever told. From Homer's epics, composed orally before writing reached Europe, through Virgil's great monument to the Roman Empire and Ovid's fantastical and irreverent epic of endless change, to Lucan's magnificent lament for lost freedom in a tyrannical age, we will see how constant revolution in the development of the genre has shaped and reshaped humanity's understanding of the gods, political force, and the powers and pleasures of literature.

In light of Covid-19 this information is indicative and may be subject to change.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

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Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: Essay 1: 2500 words (45%) Essay 2: 2500 words (45%) SAM: 10% Resit: For honours students only: candidates achieving a CAS mark of 6-8 may be awarded compensatory level 1 credit. Candidates achieving a CAS mark of less than 6 will be required to submit a new essay.

Formative Assessment

Oral feedback in seminars; written feedback via essay cover-sheets and SAM sheets.


Detailed written feedback on essays and oral feedback on seminar contributions.

Course Learning Outcomes


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