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Epic poetry was the most prestigious, most admired, most discussed and most contentious genre in ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Far from being a "handbook" of mythography (in the case of Homer) or a panegyric to Augustus (in the case of Virgil), the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid formed the backbone of popular and intellectual culture in Athens, Alexandria and Rome. These poems "throbbed" with meaning, and have been continually re-read every since they were sung and/or written. The meaning of power, authority, morality, representation, narrative, masculinity and femininity (as well as many other key concepts for the ancient mind) were interrogated in the poetry of Homer and Virgil.

This module provides the student with an advanced analysis of these keystones of ancient culture. Additionally, the module will also look at the irresistability of classical epic: writers after Homer and Virgil could not help but re-write the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid, in their own idioms and languages. We shall look at Maffeo Vegio's famous thirteenth book of the Aeneid, turning then to consider the place of classical epic in African American and Caribbean writing (especially the work of Phyllis Wheatley and Derek Walcott). We end the module by asking what it means to translate Greek epic, using Christopher Logue's War Music as our base.

Overall the module seeks to provide the student with:

  • an advanced knowledge of epic poetry in its context within the ancient Greek and Roman cultures
  • an in-depth introduction into the reception of ancient epic in Renaissance and twentieth-century poetry.