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EN2K2/EN3K2 Ancient and Modern

This module is running in 2019/2020.

Module Credits: 15

Intermediate Year: EN2K2
Final Year: EN3K2
*Please ensure that you register for the correct code for your year of study*

Seminar time - Wednesday 11:00 - 1:00

Module Outline

This module is centred upon the experience of occidental cultures (specifically: classical and Biblical antiquity), and aims to encourage an understanding that both the making and the reception of literary texts (and other artworks) are inseparable from deep cultural currents and trans-national responses to religion, myth and history. It hopes to deepen and intensify students' familiarity, critically but especially through practice, with one of the key aspects of all literary work: intertextual writing. Cultural and in particular literary production will be examined in relation to human strategies of myth-making. Students will become literate in the means by which mythologies are constructed (here, those of classical and Biblical antiquity), and will find ways of deploying their analytical skills in the making of new texts. The module is also a writing module and aims primarily at generating and enhancing skills in the construction of texts. Inseparably from that, it aims also to reinforce skills in close reading, deconstruction of rhetorical strategies, and awareness of cultural and historical contexts and cross-national comparative dimensions. Students will be required to create intertextually-conceived writings in poetry and to make manifest the thinking behind their work.

Lecture and/or Seminar times

Every week there will be both reading and writing assignments. The first hour of each class will be spent in discussion of that week’s core myth. The second hour will be a workshop in which student texts produced in response to the texts and artworks studied are discussed.

Seminar: Wednesday 11:00-1:00

Week 1: Introductory

Week 2: For discussion: Homer, Iliad Book XVIII and W H Auden, ‘The Shield of Achilles’. Followed by workshop.

Week 3: For discussion: Ovid, from Metamorphoses, Book X, Rilke, ‘Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes’ and Ovid, from Metamorphoses, Book VIII, Swift, ‘Baucis and Philemon’. Followed by workshop.

Week 4: For discussion: Ovid, from Metamorphoses, Book X, Hughes, ‘Pygmalion’ (Shaw et al), related films (e.g. Pretty Woman). Followed by workshop.

Week 5: For discussion: Herodotus, extracts on Polycrates, poem by Schiller; Herodotus, extract on Candaules and Gyges, poem by C H Sisson. Followed by workshop.

Week 7 For discussion: Prometheus, paintings by Rubens and Ribera, poems by Goethe, Byron and Gautier. Followed by workshop.

Week 8 For discussion: Daniel ch. 4-5, Byron ‘To Belshazzar’, Heine ‘Belsazar’. Followed by workshop.

Week 9 For discussion: Luke 15, 11-32, poem and prose extract by Rilke, painting by Rembrandt, sculpture by Rodin. Followed by workshop.

Week 10: For discussion: Matthew ch. 26-28 (Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 17-21), paintings by Brueghel, van der Weyden, Mantegna, sculpture by Michelangelo. Followed by workshop.

Pathway information (for students who enrolled on their course prior to 2019/20)

[details of how the module fulfils pathway requirements if applicable.]


Works on the syllabus, as given week by week above, will be supplied in a course materials workpack. Students wishing to read more extensively in e.g. Homer, Herodotus, Ovid or the Bible are of course encouraged to do so, and may use any translations of their choosing.

Reading List

Key secondary texts

Roland Barthes, Mythologies

Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God

Northrop Frye, The Great Code

E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art

Robert Graves, The Greek Myths

Background bibliography

W H Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

Nicholas Boyle, Sacred and Secular Scriptures

Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture

Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation

James Fenton, The Strength of Poetry

Sigmund Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’ (1908), Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood’ (1910), ‘The Moses of Michelangelo’ (1914)

Helen Gardner, Religion and Literature

Brewster Ghiselin (ed.), The Creative Process

Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter?

Michael Hamburger, The Truth of Poetry

Anthony Hecht, On the Laws of the Poetic Art (especially chapter one)

W N Herbert/Matthew Hollis (eds.), Strong Words

Vladimir Mayakovsky, How are Verses made?

J D McClatchy (ed.), The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry

Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry

Ezra Pound, The ABC of Reading

Michael Schmidt, Reading Modern Poetry

Paul Valéry, The Art of Poetry

Edgar Wind, Art and Anarchy


Students at Intermediate level will be required to submit both an original portfolio (approx. 200 lines of poetry, with a 1,000-word commentary) and a 2,500-word critical essay. They will be asked to choose an essay title from a list provided.

Students at Honours (final year) level will be required to submit both an original portfolio (approx. 300 lines of poetry, with a 1,000-word commentary) and a 3,500-word critical essay. They will be asked to formulate their subject and essay title themselves.

Objectives and outcomes

By the end of this module you should be able to

  • demonstrate an ability to analyse the means by which religious, heroic and historical mythologies are created;
  • develop an independent responsibility for identifying texts that can usefully serve as source material for intertextual exploration;
  • effectively communicate information, critical arguments and analysis in a variety of forms;
  • show fluency in the writing of poetry conceived in interplay with existing primary texts;
  • demonstrate an awareness of the complex intertextual relations of ancient religious, historical and mythological writing to later canonical literature from the Renaissance to the present;
  • use independent and self-reflective critical judgement;
  • use with critical understanding the wider application of the term “myth”.

Staff Picture


Prof Michael Hulse