|English/Comp Lit 220a||
Through close readings of texts ranging from the classical to the modern, this course will investigate the poetic and narrative strategies of epic poetry. While the English tradition can, in one sense, be said to begin with Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic left almost no mark upon the subsequent history of the genre. The heroic impulse in the English tradition is instead much more powerfully influenced and complicated by the antithetical models of Homer, Ovid, and, later, by that of Dante. We will explore the tensions and contradictions between insular narratives and traditions and the continuing power of classical and continental models. Critical readings will engage issues of influence, interpretation, revision, reinvention, Working through the concepts of context and intertextuality, we will pay particular attention to the backwaters and cross-currents of the tradition in English, and to the tendency of epic energy to move in unexpected directions: into theology with Milton, toward satire or impossibility in the Romantic period, into various cinematic and pop-culture modes in the 21st century. Why, for instance, do otherwise intelligent people feel that it is appropriate to refer to the James Bond films as “epic”?
Be forewarned: the reading load for this class is heavy. But then you already know that epics are long, right?
ϖ 2 short (3-5 page) essays based in close reading of specific texts
ϖ 1 3-5 page essay investigating a pop-culture revision of an epic narrative and investigating the ideological implications of such revision
ϖ 1 8-10 page essay developing an intertextual reading of a poem (due at the end of the semester.
ϖ Web postings on critical essays
ϖ Regular and engaged participation
Epics / “epics”
Milton, Paradise Lost
Keats, Fall of Hyperion
Byron, Don Juan
T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
David Jones, In Parenthesis
H.D. Helen in Egypt
Required Film Viewings (to be scheduled in March):
Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now
Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in the West
Sites of epic revision in popular culture (to be explored independently):
Tim Powers doing Eliot in Last Call; Dan Simmons doing Keats in the Hyperion series, or Homer in Ilium; Frank Miller doing Thermopylae in 300; Wofgang Petersen doing Homer in Troy; the Coen brothers also doing Homer—or are they?—in O Brother Where Art Thou. David Pincher doing Dante in Seven… Students are welcome to suggest their own post-modern epic phenomena.
Enrollment is limited to 30.