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Epic & Epyllion


Epyllion, or ‘little epic’, is the term used to describe a brief narrative poem written in hexameters, usually dealing with mythological or erotic themes and characterised by intricacy, allusivity, playfulness and a miniaturistic attitude. Such poems became fashionable in the Hellenistic period (Callimachus’ Hecale, Apollonius’ Argonautica), and again in Rome with the rise of the ‘neoteric poets’ in the late Republic, most famously Catullus in poem 64, which self-consciously transports the ‘genre’ from Greece to Rome. Poets in the Augustan and early imperial period used the epyllion form, often ‘embedded’ in longer works, as an experimental space in which to think about the heroic, the mixing and transformability of genres, the ‘Hellenisation’ of Roman literary production, and the possibilities for understanding Roman power, authority, and modernity within narrow limits and through modes of digression and play. In this module, we will study a range of texts which have been called, or might qualify as epyllia, from Catullus’ carmina docta and the Aristaeus / Nisus and Euryalus episodes in Georgics 4 and Aeneid 9, 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 be exploring what might be at stake, poetically and politically, in the striking evolution of the epyllion in Rome, and what kinds of perspectives and conceptualisations it makes possible. 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: Dr 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.