Epic Vision and Tradition from the Odyssey to Walcott’s Omeros

Lecture, Open—Year

The epic is a monumental literary form and an index to the depth and richness of a culture and the ultimate test of a writer’s creative power. Encyclopedic in its inclusiveness, the epic reflects a culture’s origins and projects its destiny, giving definitive form to its vital mythology and problematically asserting and questioning its formative values. This course on the emergence and development of the epic genre developed in the Western tradition will be organized around four central purposes. First, we will study the major structural, stylistic, and thematic features of each epic. Second, we will consider the cultural significance of the epic as the collective or heroic memory of a people. Third, we will examine how each bard weaves an inspired, yet troubled, image of visionary selfhood into the cultural and historical themes of the poem. Fourth, we will notice how the epic form changes shape under changing cultural and historical circumstances and measure the degree to which the influence of epic tradition becomes a resource for literary and cultural power. First term: Homer, Odyssey; Virgil, Aeneid; Dante, Inferno; Milton, Paradise Lost. Second term: Pope, The Rape of the Lock; Wordsworth, The Prelude; Eliot, The Waste Land; Joyce, Ulysses; Walcott, Omeros.