CLAS 333 - Greek & Roman Epic

Epic poetry was the most prestigious form of poetic expression throughout antiquity, and a grasp of its history, techniques, themes, structure, and ideologies is essential to any serious understanding of the Classical—and indeed the Western—literary tradition. This course will examine the evolution of the epic in the Greek and Roman worlds from its origins as an oral genre in the Archaic Greek period to its final efflorescence in the Late Antique period (late 4th/early 5th c. CE). The first half of the semester will be devoted to the Greeks, from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (8th c. BCE) to the self-consciously literary productions of the Hellenistic period (Apollonius’s Argonautika, about the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts, 3rd century BCE). The second half of the semester will be devoted primarily to Latin-language epic of the late Republic and early Empire, which employed epic structures and techniques to explores such diverse subjects as philosophy and the natural sciences (Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, 1st c. BCE), heroism and empire (Vergil’s Aeneid, 19 BCE), and recent Roman history (Lucan’s Pharsalia, 60s CE, about the conflict between Julius Caesar and Pompey). As the course concludes, we will examine the late Antique Greek-language epics written in the declining Roman imperial world (such as the Dionysiaca of Nonnus and Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica) in order to focus on questions of literary “decadence” and ancient reception of earlier epic. Emphasis is on close reading, but there will be a good amount of secondary literature as well. Class size: 16
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