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Epic & Epyllion


Modern scholars regularly use the term epyllion, or ‘little epic’, to describe a brief narrative poem written in hexameters. Such poems usually treat mythological themes. They often show a preference for lesser known myths, and treat these myths in a humorous or light-hearted way. Other features of some epyllia are interpolations in the story, which may take the form of internal narrators or extended descriptions.

In this module, we will study a range of texts which have been called, or might qualify as epyllia, from Catullus’ carmina docta, the Aristaeus / Nisus and Euryalus episodes in Georgics 4 and Aeneid 9 and some episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to the tale of a mosquito which descended to Hades in the [pseudo-] Virgilian Culex, and the epyllion of Hypsipyle in Statius Thebaid 5. We will analyse which traits these poems may share and how our understanding of these poems can be enriched through studying them collectively. We will also discuss the usefulness of the genre ‘epyllion’, and we will engage with theories of genre more broadly. Throughout our course we will compare epyllia to epic poetry, which is at the summit of the ancient hierarchies of genres. This will allow us to gain a better understanding of the traditions that epyllia follow and the innovations that they bring about.

Students outside the Classics department who want to take this module should be familiar Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid.

Available in 2019-20.

Module convenor: Robert Rohland


An interest in, and some knowledge of, Homer and Virgil are a prerequisite for this course. Details of Latin editions, commentaries, etc. are given on the Syllabus page.