Skip to main content

Revision

Preparing for the Epic Tradition Examination - 2018

Revising for the Epic into Novel exam

We need to revise the lecture list to make up for the loss of our lectures on A Grain of Wheat. Unfortunately Neil Lazarus is unable to lecture in week one so I’ll give a revision lecture on the epic in week one, then Neil will lecture on Ngugi in week two and I will give a second revision lecture on the novel and the relations between epics and novels in week 3. The information provided below will be supplemented in lectures.

For this exam you need to be ready to write about three epics (out of four total) and two novels (out of three total). You will need to know this minimum of five texts well and you will also need to think in advance about the issues which the module has raised.

Knowing the five texts well involves having a good grasp of the plot and structure of the text (so that you will be able to “place” the extracts you comment on in section one), knowing the characters and being aware of the most important issues discussed in the texts.

For The Iliad, characters to make notes on would include: Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Pallas Athene, Thetis, Achilleus, Patroklos, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Hektor, Priam, Helen, Andromache, Briseis, while major issues of the poem would include the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilleus, the role and function of the gods, the portrayal of fighting and death, the embassy to Achilleus, the promise which Zeus makes and enforces and the unexpected consequence in the death of Patroklus, the power of the mortals relative to the gods, the circumstances of the return of Hektor's body, what Achilleus learns about life and death in the course of the book, impact of oral composition and revision on the epic.

For The Aeneid, the characters to make notes on would include: Jupiter, Juno, Venus, Aeneas, Asconius, Dido, Evander, Pallas, Turnus, Camilla, Mezentius. Major issues of the poem would include: Virgil’s reuse of Homeric materials, the poem’s ideology of Roman world dominance, the relations between gods and mortals, religion in the poem, prophecy, war and violence, duty versus emotion, comparison of Virgilian and Homeric concepts of heroism, the question of Aeneas’s killing of Turnus, the role of Juno, the way in which Juno and Italian elements are incorporated in Roman identity, role of myths and allegory in the poem.

For Paradise Lost, the characters to make notes on would include: Satan, Belial, Beelzebub, Sin, Death, God, the Son, Raphael, Abdiel, Adam, Eve. Major issues would include: the new kind of heroism proposed, the denigration of previous epics, treatment of classical gods, freedom, duplicity, allegory, politics and rebellion, humanizing the devils and the unfallen, autobiography in the poem, the war in heaven, marriage, responsibility, learning to recognize one’s faults, management of human history in the poem, internal regeneration and theory of the fortunate fall.

For The Mahabharata, the characters to make notes on would include: Krsna, Sāvitrī, on the Kaurava side: Dhrtarāstra, Duryodhana, Bhīsma, Drona, Karna, Sakuni, Vidura, and Asvatthāman; and on the Kaurava side: Kunti, Yudhisthira, Bhīma, Arjuna, Drapaudī, and Abhimanyu (see the handout from the lecture). Major issues include: dharma, karma, the battle between gods and demons, detachment, the problem of using deception to win the war, role of Krsna, doing good versus a concept of destiny, the idea of timely action, connections with Homeric epic, differences from Homeric epic, role of Drapaudi, the dice-game compared with the war, impact of oral composition and revision on the epic, connection with religious practices and beliefs, how does the poem extend our idea of what epic can do.

For Tom Jones, the characters to make notes on would include: Allworthy, Squire Weston, Tom, Partridge, Blifil, Sophia, Mrs Waters, Lady Bellaston, Mrs Miller, the Man of the Hill, Mrs Fitzpatrick. Major issues would include: the author’s approach to the audience and the role of the initial chapters to each book and the author’s comments, the structure of the novel and the movement from picaresque (episodes on a journey) to comedy, relation to the epic and to Don Quixote, coming to realise the limitations of initial views, teaching through comedy and through example, Jacobitism, family politics and national politics.

For Middlemarch, the characters to make notes on would include: Dorothea, Celia, Casaubon, Ladislaw, Mr Brooke, Lydgate, Rosamund Vincy, Fred Vincy, Mary Garth, Parson Farebrother, Bulstrode, Sir James Chetham, Mrs Cadwallader. Major issues would include: the way the novel is narrated, how the audience’s view of characters changes, how marriages work and how they fail, the frustration of ambition, the insidiousness of petty corruption, provincial life, the politics of the period around the 1832 electoral reform bill, science and art, egotism, listening to others, the heroism of remote and private life, how do comparisons between characters help us understand the ideas of the book.

For A Grain of Wheat, the characters to make notes on would include: Kihaka, Karanja, Mugo,
Gikonyo, Mumbi, Wambui, General R, Koina, John Thompson, Dr Lynd. Major issues would include: management of time in the novel (the few days leading up to independence compared with the long history of rebellion against British colonialism), voice of the narrator versus moments when he enters the minds of different characters, relations between men and women, relations between the active rebels and the general population, deceptiveness of some ideas of heroism in the novel (solidity of others), portrayal of the development of Kenya since the freeing of Kenyatta and the establishment of self-rule, have things improved for the people, story-telling within the novel, role of African traditions (such as music, carving, proverbs, religion) in the novel, vengeance and punishment, running and racing, role of the landscape and especially the forest, portrayal of relations between people of different races, problem of the future of white people in Kenya.

General issues connected with the epics would include: heroes, gods and goddesses, heroic women, fighting, death, funerals and funeral games, story-telling, glory, homecoming, prophecy, founding a nation and national identity, the underworld, the night raid, storms, similes, feats, aristeiai, guest friendship, gifts, valuable equipment, justice, compassion, duty, religion, culture, understanding the nature of the world. It might be useful for you to have examples in mind of some of these elements.

General issues connected with the novel would include: techniques of and attitudes to narration; degree of access to thoughts of individuals and ways of moving between the different individuals’ minds, function of the author’s voice and of authorial commentary, how is the relationship between narrator and audience developed and exploited, openness and breadth of novel as compared with epic, focus on more ordinary (but not too ordinary) people, love and marriage in the novel, novel as depiction of bourgeois society, variety of language and heteroglossia, novel and history,

Peter Mack
10 April 2018

See HERE for Past Exam Papers.