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C LIT 424 A: The Epic Tradition

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
CMU B006
Joint Sections: 
CLAS 424 A
Olga Levaniouk

Syllabus Description:

TTh 10:30-12:20                                             CMU B006


Olga Levaniouk          

Denny M262B, (206) 543-2266

Office hours:  Thursday 2:30-3:20pm and by appointment


Course description:

This autumn’s Epic Tradition course will be an in-depth look at the Iliad and the Odyssey, their contexts and their background. Have you read the Iliad and the Odyssey and think you know what they are all about? You may be surprised to find out what’s lost in translation, what’s just under the surface, what was obvious to the ancient Greeks but is news to us, and how much there is still to discover. Have you never read Homer? The goal of this course is to make your first experience with Greek epic both more accessible and more interesting. Apart from reading and discussing the poems, we’ll talk about the mythology of the Trojan war, what archaeology can tell us about Homer, how Homeric poetry was composed, performed, and passed down in Ancient Greece, how it survived for us to read, why there is still so much disagreement about it, how you can go about doing research on it, and many other subjects. The basis for the course will be reading and discussion: fundamentally, in this class we’ll gather to talk about Homer, ask and answer questions, debate difficult points and try out different approaches to solving them. The students’ main task is to read the epics and come to class with thoughts and questions. In addition, there will be some mini-lectures, videos, and podcasts to discuss, and some carefully selected articles or book chapters about Homer to read. Along the way, we’ll take a brief look at some modern works of fiction and poetry inspired by the Iliad and the Odyssey.


  1. The Iliad, Homer. Translated by Stanley Lombardo, introduction by Sheila Murnaghan. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1997.
  2. The Odyssey, Homer. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, introduction by Carne-Ross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Pub. 1998.



Two quizzes:                         10% each

Test One:                               20%

Test Two:                               20%

Writing assignment:              15%

Class participation                 15%

Discussion leading                 10%


Test One will be devoted to the Iliad, Test Two to the Odyssey. Both exams will consist of commenting on passages.

The quizzes, no more than 10 minutes in length, will consist of several factual questions.

The writing assignment (ca. 4 pages in length) is due on the last day of class. It can take the form of a conventional essay (consult me about the topic) or take many other forms (book reviews, investigative projects, creative responses to Homer). All projects have to be agreed upon by me and you.


Discussion leading:  each student will be responsible for one book of the Iliad or the Odyssey. The student's task is to introduce that book, formulate some questions about it, and get the discussion going.


Make-up tests will be given only if the original tests are missed for respectable reasons (medical reasons, family emergencies, religious observances and the like). There will be no extra-credit assignments.

Please note that there is no textbook for this course. What is said in class will be your main source of information, and subjects discussed will be important for the tests. We will go over important points repeatedly, but it is the responsibility of each student to take notes if necessary. No notes will be provided by the instructor in case of missed class.


Useful resources:

Classical Inquiries:

“The Chicago Homer”

A very rudimentary bibliography:

A dated, but conveniently organized bibliography:

Listen to Homer recited:

or sung:


Some good lectures online:

T. Palaima at National Hellenic Museum

G. Nagy and L. Muellner, “Intro to Homeric Greek: Poetry of Grammar, Iliad 1-9.”



9/28     Introduction.


WEEK 2 Homeric questions

10/3     Iliad 1-2.       

                                    Optional readings and listens:

10/5     Iliad 3-5.   

  • Blondell, “Disarming Beauty: the Iliad.” (chapter 3 of R. Blondell, Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation (available online through UW libraries)                           

                                    Optional readings:

  • Muellner, “The Simile of Cranes and Pygmies: a study of Homeric Metaphor.”               
  • Jamison, “Draupadi on the Walls of Troy.” (available on Canvas)
  • Blondell, “Helen, Daughter of Zeus” ((chapter 2 of R. Blondell, Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation (available online through UW libraries)   )


WEEK 3 Troy and Mycenaeans.  Lament.

10/10   Iliad 6-8

                                    Optional readings:

  • Donlan, “The Unequal Exchange between Glaucus and Diomedes in Light of the Homeric Gift Economy” (available on Canvas)
  • Nagy, “The Homeric Iliad and the Glory of the Unseasonal Hero.”                                  
  • Nagy, “Achilles as Epic Hero and the Idea of Total Recall in Song”                               


10/12   Iliad 9-11

  • Eric Cline, The Trojan War, a very short introduction, parts II. 2 and III (available on Canvas)

                                    Optional readings and listens:

  • CHS Open House with Casey Dué: “Homer and the Bronze Age”                              
  • Katz, Review of Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery by J. Latacz (available on Canvas)
  • Wood, In Search of the Trojan War.


WEEK 4  Gods and Humans.

10/17   Iliad 12-15. QUIZ ONE

                                    An interesting resource:

                                    Jenny Clay, Homer’s Trojan

                                    Theater/Homer Visualized, 

                                    Optional readings:

  • Vermeule, E. 1979. “Immortals are mortal, Mortals immortal” Link


10/19   Iliad 15-16.


                                    Optional readings:

  • Nagy, “Patroklos as the Other Self of Achilles.”   
  • Burgess, J. 2001. “The Epic Cycle and Homer,” chapter 3 of The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle (available online through UW libraries).


WEEK 5  Epic and Lament

10/24   Iliad 17-19.  

 C. Alexander, "No Hostages" (from the War that Killed Achilles) Link

                                    Optional secondary reading:

  • Nagy, “The Shield of Achilles: Ends of the Iliad and Beginnings of the Polis.”


  10/26 Iliad 20-22

                                    G.Nagy, “Achilles and the Poetics of Lament”


                                    Video: Ch’unhyang (2000)

 Optional secondary readings and listens:


WEEK 6  From the Iliad to the Odyssey

10/31 Iliad 23 and 24.

            “The Iliad: Beauty, Brutes, and Battles” (The Forum podcast from the BBC)                        

            Optional secondary readings:

  • Lowenstam, S., As Witnessed by Images: The Trojan War Tradition in Greek and Etruscan Art (2008), pp. 13-43. Link
  • Crotty, K. (1994) “Eleos and Book 24 of the Iliad,” chapter 1 of The Poetics of Supplication: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Link

11/2     Odyssey 1-3. Nostos and Nostoi.

  • J. Burgess, “The Plots in the Odyssey” (from Homer: understanding the

    •             classicsLink

    • G. Nagy, Hour 9 from “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours” Link

                Optional secondary readings and listens:

    E. Cook, “Dialectics of Englightenment” (from The Odyssey in Athens)  Link  

    CHS Open House discussion with Gregory Nagy and Leonard Muellner on Odyssey 1-4: Link

    WEEK 7  

    11/7     TEST ONE

    11/9     NO CLASS. Please submit a proposal re. your final essay/project via Canvas (see the   Assignment for 11/8)


    WEEK 8. Return to Light and Life.

    11/14   Odyssey 4-6.

    • F. Ahl and H. Roisman, “Rival Homecomings.” Link
    • R. Blondell, "Happily Ever After? The Odyssey." Link

    Optional secondary readings:

    • Bergren, “Similes and Symbol in Odyssey V”  Link
    • Austin, “Nausikaa and the Word that Must not be Spoken. A reading of Homer’s Odyssey, Book VI.”  Link                

    11/16   Odyssey 7-9.

    R. Martin, “Hesiod, Odysseus, and the Instruction of Princes” Link

    E. Cook, “In the Cave of the Encloser” Link

    D. Frame, “The Return of Odysseus” Link


    WEEK 9  Underworld and other worlds. 

    11/21   Odyssey 10-12 

    W. Hansen, “Odysseus and the Oar: a Folkloric Approach.”

    G. Nagy, Hour 10 from The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours. Link

    D. Page, “Circe” (from Folktales in Homer’s Odyssey)

    D. Page, “Aeolus; the Cattle of the Sun; and the Sirens” (from Folktales in Homer’s Odyssey)

    11/23  NO CLASS


    WEEK 10  “Homer’s Versicolored fabric.” Penelope, part I.

     11/28   Odyssey 13-17     

    F. Ahl and H. Roisman, “First encounters with Eumaeus”

    F. Ahl and H. Roisman, “Turning Points and Returns.”

    T. Van Nortwick, “Constructed Lives”  Link

                Optional secondary readings and listens:

    A. Roisman, “Eumaeus and Odysseus—Covert Recognition and Self- Revelation?”

    S. Reece, “Cretan Odyssey: a lie truer than truth.” Link

    H. Foley, “Reverse Similes and Sex Roles in the Odyssey.”

    R. Scodel, “The Suitors’ Games.” Link

    J. Christensen and the Odyssey and “Breaking Bad” Link

    11/30   Odyssey 18-20     

    D. Lateiner, “Gendered Weapons: Penelope’s Nonverbal Behaviors.”

    S. Jamison, “Penelope and the Pigs.” Link

    O. Levaniouk, “The dreams of Barchin and Penelope”  Link

    O. Levaniouk “The Decision.”  Link


    WEEK 11 Penelope, part II. The end of heroic age.

    12/5     Odyssey 21-24

    N. Felson and L. Slatkin, “Gender and Homeric epic.”

    F. Ahl and H. Roisman, “Prelude to the massacre”

    F. Ahl and H. Roisman, “Penelope and the Bow”

    Optional secondary readings and listens:

    C. Dougherty, “From Raft to Bed.” Link

    Bertolin-Cebrian, “The Mast and the Loom.”    Link                       

    Michael Longley, a selection of poems

    Daniel Mendelsohn, “A Father’s Final Odyssey.” Link               

    12/7    Conclusions

    Burgess, “Theory” (from Homer: understanding the Classics)


    TEST TWO:  Monday, December 11, 10:30-12: 20, CMU B006





    Catalog Description: 
    Ancient and medieval epic and heroic poetry of Europe in English: the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid; the Roland or a comparable work from the medieval oral tradition; pre-Greek forerunners, other Greco-Roman literary epics, and later medieval and Renaissance developments and adaptations of the genre. Choice of reading material varies according to instructor's preference. Offered: jointly with CLAS 424.
    Department Requirements Met: 
    Literature Elective
    GE Requirements Met: 
    Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
    Last updated: 
    January 10, 2018 - 9:24pm