Course Philosophy and Introduction
This course will introduce students to the epic poetry of the
Ancient World and its continuing influence on later Western literature.
After familiarizing themselves with two major works of Homer , students
will read the less-celebrated Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes. They
will next compare that adaptation of the Epic tradition to the Roman
Virgil's Aeneid. The course concludes after a jump to the
study Milton's Paradise Lost, both for its debt to the classical tradition
and its adaptation of ancient themes to modern literature. The course
will address issues of individual and social conduct, the competing claims
of the self and the group, and the relationship of the human and the
divine. Enrollment does not presume previous experience with ancient or
The course requirements include a final exam and three 5-7 page papers,
with intangibles such
as as class participation also included in the grade. Students will
have some choice in the paper topics.
As falling behind will be MOST perilous in this course, please note the following firm rules:
All assignments will be completed on
the due date.
No extensions, no incompletes.
There will be occasional quizzes if necessary to insure that reading assignments are completed as
Required Texts (available at the
University Book Store):
Homer, The Iliad (translated by Robert Fitzgerald)
Homer, The Odyssey (tr. Robert Fitzgerald)
Apollonius of Rhodes, The Argonautica (B.J. Fowler's translation
included in Hellenistic Poetry)
Virgil, The Aeneid (tr. Robert Fitzgerald)
Milton, Paradise Lost (ed. Ricks)
ALL CLASS MATERIALS AND FINAL GRADE MAY BE PICKED UP IN THE CLASSICS
OFFICE, 720 WILLIAMS HALL.
W September 6 Introductory meeting: Why Epic?
F September 8: Reading - Iliad 1. Study questions:
- How is the concept of the hero defined at the beginning of the Iliad?
- What are Agamemnon's and Achilles' respective claims to greatness?
M September 11 Reading - Iliad 2-3. Study
- Reread with care the description, speech, and treatment of Thersites (Book 2, 10-85
What might this tell us about class and politics in Homeric Greece?
- What are the main features of the Iliad's narrative style? Is it logical? Concise? Pleasing to
you? Do you find all the episodes narrated in this part of the story strictly necessary (e.g.,
the Catalogue of Ships at the end of Book 2; the review of the Greek captains by Helen
and the Trojan elders in Book 3)?
W September 13: Reading - Iliad 4-6. Study Questions:
- What role does the Iliad give to the gods in the action of the poem? How are we to read
their activities? Literally? Metaphorically? How does it affect your appreciation of the
- Compare the portraits of Helen and Andromache, Hector and Alexandros in Book 6.
What do they tell us about the characters? Ideal gender roles?
F September 15: Reading - Iliad 7-9. Study Questions:
- What is your impression of Achilles in comparison with other leading characters at this point
in the narrative?
- Reread with care the speech of Phoenix to Achilles in Book 9, especially the story of
Meleagros (lines 523-610). What is the point of the story? How does the relationship
between Phoenix and Achilles affect our reaction to the story? How does the impression
that Phoenix hopes that he will make compare with the one that it actually does make on
Achilles? On the reader?
M September 18: Reading - Iliad 10-12. Study Questions:
- In moral terms, how do you evaluate the night raid of Diomedes and Odysseus in Book 10?
What does Homer think? Does it fit the mood of rest of the narrative?
- Think about the role of the gods in the fighting. Does it credit or discredit a hero to have a
god's help in battle, or neither?
W September 20: Reading - Iliad 13-15. Study Questions:
- Reread with care Hera's beguilement of Zeus in Book 14 (lines 175-360); cf. Book 15, 1-
285). How do this and other examples of divine intervention illuminate the status of gods
and, particularly, of humans in the poem? What is the point of narrating repeated efforts by
the lessor to circumvent or overpower the preeminence of Zeus? Can we make reliable
inferences from evidence such as this about early Greek religious attitudes?
- By the end of Book 15, has Hector changed in character? Has he displayed hubris? Or is
his bold action simply fulfillment of the heroic code and the will of Zeus?
F September 22: first paper due (FIRST draft).
M September 25: Reading - Iliad 16-18. Study Questions:
- What is the significance of the fact that Patroclus goes into battle wearing Achilles'
- Why does the text describe in such detail the shield that Achilles receives from Hephaestos?
How is the detail meaningful to the narrative?
W September 27: Reading - Iliad 19-21. Study Questions:
- Where do your sympathies lie as Achilles confronts Aeneas and Hector? Then Lycaeon
and Agenor? Does the poem seem to seek your sympathy for one man or the other?
F September 29: Reading - Iliad 22-24. Study Questions:
- Does the character of Achilles change in the Iliad?
- Does the poem end in a satisfactory way?
M October 2: Reading - Odyssey 1. Study Questions:
- Compare the opening lines of the Odyssey with those of the Iliad. Do they set a similar or
different tone to the epic?
- Why do you think Athena disguises herself before Telemachus? How does it affect the
W October 4: Reading - Odyssey 2-4. Study Questions:
- Consider the depiction of Penelope. In what ways does she reflect ideal feminine virtues?
Are any less-than-ideal qualities evident?
- What narrative purpose does it serve, do you suppose, to devote the first four books to
Telemachus and the situation in Ithaka, as opposed to directly introducing Odysseus, the
central figure of the epic?
F October 6: first paper due (final draft).
M October 9: Reading - Odyssey 5-7. Study Questions:
- Consider the description of the Phaiakian city and royal family. How does it compare with
the current state of affairs in Ithaka?
W October 11: Reading - Odyssey 8-10. Study Questions:
- Book 8 contains a famous portrait of a heroic storyteller, the minstrel Demodocus. Does
this portrait allow us to draw inferences about the circumstances under which poems like the
Iliad and Odyssey were originally performed? What is the significance of the tales that
Demodocus sings to the narrative of the Odyssey?
F October 13: Reading - Odyssey 11-13. Study Questions:
- Reflect on the speeches of the shades in Book 11, particularly those of Agamemnon and
Achilles. Do they reflect a different morality from that followed by the same heroes in the
M October 16: FALL BREAK
W October 18: Reading - Odyssey 14-16. Study Questions:
- Why does Homer have Odysseus keep testing Eumaios?
F October 20: second paper due (FIRST draft).
M October 23: Reading - Odyssey 17-20. Study Questions:
- Consider the lies that Odysseus tells when he appears in disguise on Ithaka. Is his story
consistent, or does it vary with each telling? What factors determine the precise form that
his lies take? Are his stories wholly false?
W October 25: Reading - Odyssey 21-24. Study Questions:
- Does the fate of the suitors seem just to you? What narrative devices were employed to
make it seem so - or not so?
F October 27: Reading - Argonautica 1. Study Questions:
- What aspects of Argonautica 1 reveal its literary (i.e. "written" as opposed to "orally
narrated") qualities as compared to the Homeric poems?
M October 30: Reading-Argonautica 2-3. Study Questions:
- Apollonius was the first epic poet to divide his own work into books. What signs are there
at the beginning of Book 3 that this book will differ from the previous books or from
- Consider Apollonius' treatment of the counsels of the gods on pp. 145-9 in light of similar
scenes from Homer. How is it similar? different? Did you find the presentation
W November 1: Reading-Argonautica 4. Study
- Compare the plight of Medea, fleeing with the Argonauts, to the flight of Helen to Troy.
What themes might be at play here? Consider in particular Arete's plea and Alcinous'
judgment on p. 212.
- What is your evaluation of Jason as a hero?
F November 3 second paper due (final draft).
M November 6: Reading - Aeneid 1-2. Study Questions:
- Compare in Book I Aeneas' first soliloquy (lines 134-43), his first speech to his followers
(270-83), and his exchange with Venus (411-561) with their models in Odyssey (5.309-23,
10.192-5, and 13.276-440, respectively). Why does Virgil allude so often and so
specifically to passages such as these? How can such allusions inform one's interpretation
of the Aeneid ?
W November 8: Reading - Aeneid 3-4. Study Questions:
- What are Aeneas' heroic qualities? How does he compare to his Homeric predecessors,
Achilles and Odysseus? The Argonaut Jason? Does the Aeneid invite the reader to make
such comparisons? Does it prejudice our judgments?
- What is your reaction to the fate of Dido?
F November 10: Reading - Aeneid 5-6. Study Questions:
- Consider the theme of death in the Aeneid so far. How does the Virgilian attitude towards
death differ from that of Homer? Does the reader's perception of death change between
the Carthage episode (Books 1-4) and Books 5 and 6?
M November 13: Reading - Aeneid 7-8. Study Questions:
- In Book 7 the narrator declares that the story that follows will be "a greater history" and "a
greater task" (lines 58-9). This is often read as Virgil's designation of Books 7-12 as his
Iliad, as against Books 1-6 as his Odyssey. To what extent is this division valid? Do you
find it a helpful interpretive device?
W November 15: Reading - Aeneid 9-10. Study Questions:
- Reread carefully the story of Nisus and Euryalus in Book 9 (lines 241-638). What if any
'moral" can you extract from this story? Does your interpretation agree with the narrator's
outburst at lines 633-8? Is this a story of heroism? Is their love for one another admirable?
How does their previous appearance (in the footrace episode of Book 5, lines 369-463)
affect the reader's assessment of them here?
M November 20: Reading - Aeneid 11-12. Study Questions:
- When Aeneas returns from Pallanteum, he wears divine armor and carries an elaborate
shield crafted by Vulcan. At the end of the poem he kills his foe in single combat. Contrast
his resemblance to Achilles here with his last words to Ascanius/Iulus that his son will
emulate him (along with the fallen Hector) in virtue, but others in fortune. Further, Turnus
constantly reminds the Trojans of their previous failures. Do Aeneas and the Trojans
overcome their past? What does it mean to "overcome" one's personal history,even in this
W November 22:third paper due (FIRST draft).
F November 24: THANKSGIVING BREAK
M November 27:Project Examples Due Reading -
Paradise Lost 1. Study Questions:
- On what sources of inspiration did Milton draw in creating the character of Satan? What
does this imply about Satan's role in the poem?
W November 29: Reading - Paradise Lost 2-3. Study
- In Book 2 Satan holds a council of demons in the infernal city of Pandemonium to plot
revenge against Heaven. In Book 3 Milton introduces God and His Son, who discusses the
history of Satan's rebellion and the prospect of his interference on Earth. Consider this
divine council in the light of parallels from Homer and Virgil.
F December 1: Reading - Paradise Lost 4-5. Study Questions:
- Reread with care Satan's soliloquy on knowledge in Book 4 (505-35). Do you find his
position - that the suppression of knowledge is a cruel and tyrannical act persuasive? How
does this attitude compare to those expressed in previous epics? 9 What do we learn about
the condition of Adam and Eve in Eden? Do they work? Do they feel sexual passion?
M December 4: Reading - Paradise Lost 6-8. Study Questions:
- How do you judge the relations of knowledge and power that are created between
Raphael, Adam, and Eve? To what extent is this system of disclosing and withholding
knowledge contribute to Satan's success? How does your answer bear on Satan's
soliloquy on knowledge in Book 4? On Milton's intellectual ambition to "justify the ways of
God to men" (1.26)?
W December 6: Reading - Paradise Lost 9-10. Study Questions:
- Has Satan become more or less interesting to you as the poem progresses? Do you have
the same sympathy for him that you may (or may not) have felt for him earlier? To what
extent do you think Milton intended this?
F December 8: Reading - Paradise Lost 11-12. Study Questions:
- As the angel Michael reveals to him the postlapsarian future of the human race, Adam is
driven first to despair, but then takes hope at the thought of eventual redemption (made
possible only by his transgression). How do you judge his reaction? Does it take adequate
account of all the suffering that will transpire and of all the souls that will be lost before
redemption takes place?
- What is Milton's conception of heroism? Does your answer change as you read Paradise
M December 11: Third paper due (final draft). In-Class Final
F December 22: No Final Exam (in this format) Will Be Set upon this date
Notes as of 9/15/95
Notes as of 9/29/95
Notes as of 10/2/95
Notes as of 11/1/95
Notes as of 11/10/95
Notes as of 12/4/95
The Question Assigned for the 1st Class paper
The Question Assigned for the 2nd Class paper
The Question Assigned for the 3rd Class paper
Blessington, F. C. Paradise Lost and the Classic Epic (1979).
Bowra, C. M. From Virgil to Milton (1972).
Camps, W. A. An Introduction to Virgil's 'Aeneid'
----------. An Introduction to Homer (1980).
Dudley, Donald R. The Civilization of Rome. New York:
Meridian, 1993. ISBN 0-452-01016-0
Feeney, D. C. The Gods in Epic (1991).
Fisch, S. E. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise
Hunter, R. L. The Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary
Hutchinson, G. Hellenistic Poetry (1988).
Kirk, G. S. The Songs of Homer (1962).
----------. Homer and the Oral Tradition (1967).
Lewis, C. S. A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942).
Martindale, C. John Milton and the Transformation of Ancient
Nagy, G. The Best of the Achaians (1979).
Ricks, C. Milton's Grand Style (1963).
Schein, S. L. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer's
Toohey, P. Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives
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