You are here

C LIT 424 A: The Epic Tradition

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
DEN 259
Joint Sections: 
CLAS 424 A
Olga Levaniouk

Syllabus Description:

In this course you will encounter some very old tales: the traditional, heroic epics that for centuries served, and still serve, as a way for people to create a legendary past for themselves, to define themselves, and to connect the past to present and future. We will focus on traditional tales passed down orally from one generation to the next and visit many times and places, from the ancient Near East, Greece, and India, to medieval Central Asia and Europe. We will read, in whole or in part, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Ramayana, the Tain Bo Cualnge and epic tales from Turkic and Slavic traditions. The goal is to delve into these fascinating tales in all their variety and to get a sense of what we know and how much there is to explore.


In essence, this is a read and discuss course, and the best part of it is always the exchange of opinions in class. There is no secondary literature to read, at least none that is required: the background information will be provided in class, while the students’ task is to read the epics themselves and come to class with thoughts and questions. There will be three hour-long non-cumulative tests (mostly commenting on passages we talked about in class) and one short writing assignment. Each student will be responsible for taking the lead in discussion of a reading assignment—that is, of reading one assignment with special care and thinking of some questions/subjects to discuss with peers (i.e. this is not a report—rather, the task is to get the discussion going).


No previous familiarity with the epics we’ll read is assumed or required (but you will learn a lot even if you have read some of these poems before!).


Questions? Please contact Olga Levaniouk at



Winter 2017                                      TTh 10:30-12:20                                             Denny 259



Olga Levaniouk          

Denny M262B, (206) 543-2266


Office hours: TTh 9-10am



  1. 1. The Epic of Gilgamesh, by Andrew George. Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (April 29, 2003).
  2. The Iliad, Homer. Translated by Stanley Lombardo, introduction by Sheila Murnaghan. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1997.
  3. The Odyssey, Homer. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, introduction by Carne-Ross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Pub. 1998.
  4. 4. The Mahabharata: a shortened modern version of the Indian Epic. Translated by R.K. Narayan, foreword by W. Doniger.
  5. Ramayana, Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic. Translated by R. K. Narayan. Penguin Books 2006.
  6. 6. The Tain: Translated from the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge by Thomas Kinsella. Oxford University Press 2002.



midterm                                20%                                         final                            20%

quizzes:                                  20% (5% each)

class participation                 20%                                         essay                          10%

in-class presentation            10%    


The midterm will be devoted to the Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Tain, the final to the Odyssey, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. Both exams will consist in commenting on passages.

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

The essay (ca. 6 pages in length) is due on the last day of class; topics tba.

In-class presentation is really an exercise in discussion leading. Each student will be responsible for one book of the Iliad or the Odyssey, or a section of another epic. The student's task is to "introduce" that book/section in class, 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 (e.g. illness, family emergency, or a religious observance, if advance notice is given). 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.



1/3      Introduction

1/5      Gilgamesh I (pp.1-47)

                        Report options:        Enkidu (pp.1-22, Tablets I and II),

                                                            Journey to the Cedar Forest  (pp.23-39, Tablets III                                                                                and IV),

                                                            Humbaba (pp. 39-47, Tablet V)


1/0      Gilgamesh II (pp.47-100)

                        Reports:         Ishtar and the Bull of Heaven (pp. 47-54 , Tablet IV)                                                                             Zach

                                                Death of Enkidu and Grief of Gilgamesh (pp. 54-69,                                                                             Tablets VII and VIII),  Rose

                                                Gilgamesh’s Quest for Immortality (pp.70-87, Tablets                                                                          IX and X) Faruk

                                                Uta-napishti and Immortality Denied (pp. 88-99,                                                                                   Tablet XI) Alana

1/12    Iliad 1-5.         QUIZ 1.

            Iliad 1: Karen



1/17    Iliad 6-10.

            Iliad 6: Maya

            Iliad 7: Matt


1/19    Iliad 11-15.

           Iliad 13: Nefertari



1/24    Iliad 16-20.

            Ilad 16: Phillip

            Iliad 17: Sam

            Iliad 18: Alea


1/26    Iliad 20-24.     QUIZ 2.

            Iliad 22: Kelly

            Iliad 24: David



1/31    The Tain I (pp. 52-167).

                        Report options:        Beginning of the Tain and the Boyhood Deeds of                                                          Cuchulainn (52-92).

                                                Cuchulainn in Battle (137-156). 


2/2      The Tain II (pp. 168-253)

                        Report options:        Combat of Ferdia and Cuchulainn (168-205).


                                                            Ulster Rises and the Last Battle (206-253)




2/7      MIDTERM

2/9     Odyssey 1-6

            Odyssey 5: Beccy



2/14    Odyssey 7-12

            Odyssey 7

            Odyssey 9: Mallory

            Odyssey 11: Dick

            Odyssey 12: Kaia


2/16    Odyssey 13-18. QUIZ 3.

            Odyssey 13: Joe

           Odyssey 16: Jiaxuan



2/21    Odyssey 19-24.

          Odyssey 19: Dahyuk

           Odyssey 21: Pauli

2/23    Mahabharata I (Narayan 1-83) and handout.

                        Report options:        Beginning and players (1-19)

                                                            Fire, Draupadi and Indraprastha (20-53)  Hayden

                                                            Draupadi’s bridegroom choice (handout)

                                                            Dice and exile (54-83).                                             



2/28    Mahabharata II (Narayan 84-179) and handout. 

                        Report options:        Nala and Damayanti (handout)

                                                            End of exile and servitude (84-111),

                                                            War? (112-143),

                                                            Battle and the end (143-179),


3/2      Ramayana I. 3-89. QUIZ 4.

                        Report options:        Rama’s Initiation (7-21)

                                                            The wedding (21-32)

                                                            Rama’s exile (33-61), Jiaxuan Tu

                                                            Soorpanaka and Sita’s abduction (62-89)



3/7      Ramayana II. 90-157, handout. 

                        Report options:

                                    Vali and the Vanaras (90-105),

                                    Crossing the Ocean and Siege of Lanka  (121-147), Kyle                                    Return, Coronation (147-157),

                                     Sita’s exile and the end (handout)


3/9      Conclusion. Sita Sings the Blues.


FINAL: Monday, March 13, 10:30-12:20 in Denny 259.


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: 
August 4, 2017 - 9:03pm