C LIT 424 A: The Epic Tradition

Spring 2024
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm / SMI 304
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
GLITS 313 B , CLAS 424 A
Olga Levaniouk
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


MW 11:30-1:20 SMI 304

Olga Levaniouk 

Professor, Department of Classics (Links to an external site.)


Office: Denny M262B,  (206) 543-2266

pronouns: she/her  


Office hours: TBA and by appointment—please don't hesitate to get in touch! You don't have to have a specific question to come to the office hour—I am happy just to chat about the epics, my favorite subject! You are also welcome to ask me questions not directly related to the course — about the Classics department and the courses it offers, studying Ancient Greek and Latin, my work, etc. Feel free also to alert me to issues with course material—I welcome all questions and concerns. 


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, transmit values that are important to them, 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 Mahabharata, and the Tain Bo Cualnge.  The goal is to get a sense of what these epics are and how much more there is to explore.

Although it is listed as an upper-level, this course is very much open to students at all levels, including freshmen, and of all majors. 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! Please be prepared for a substantial amount of reading.


  1. The Epic of Gilgamesh, by Andrew George. Penguin Classics; Reissue edition(April 29, 2003).
  2. The Iliad. A New Translation. By Caroline Alexander. Ecco 2016.
  3. The Odyssey, Homer. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, introduction by Carne-Ross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Pub. 1998. or: Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson. Norton 2017.
  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. The Tain: Translated from the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge by Thomas Kinsella. Oxford University Press 2002.

Alternative options for the Mahābhārata 

The Mahābhārata: An English Version Based on Selected Verses by Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965). 

The Mahābhārata, edited and translated by John D. Smith (London: Penguin Books, 2009).

Note: I generally allow the use of other translations in class but there are exceptions, so please run it by me first.

There is no need for a consultation if you want to get Emily Wilson's latest translations of the Odyssey (Norton 2017) or the Iliad (Norton 2023)—please feel free to do so. FYI Wilson's is the first translation of the Odyssey by a woman and it has received much attention and acclaim since its publication. Caroline Alexander’s translation of the Iliad is also the first translation of that epic by a woman. I decided to order Fitzgerald's translation for the Odyssey for this course and would be happy to explain why in class, but it's a complicated decision, and I might go the other way next time.  So: choose between these two and go with the translation that appeals to you. We may do an activity comparing translations in class.



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, though there will be optional recommended readings for those who are interested.  The required background information will be provided in class and/or asynchronously on canvas, while the students’ essential task is to read the epics themselves and come to class with thoughts and questions. 


—a short essay (4-5 pages) due Monday of the exam week. The “essay” is loosely understood and can include, with the instructor’s agreement, both academic and creative work, as long as it is done in response to the course.

—participation in discussion and in-class group activities including graded groups ( there will be a weekly  activity occasionally involving some extra reading—modern poem, excerpts from novels inspired by Homer etc—but mostly answering a set of questions in a google doc or on canvas) 

— before every  class the students will be asked to submit short (100 word) written responses on Canvas, answering a prompt. One or more of these responses can form the basis for the essay. Three lowest grades for these responses will be dropped. 

Grade components:

group assignments (two lowest scores dropped) = 30%

100-word responses, 3 lowest scores dropped = 40%

essay = 20%

participation in class - 10%

Note: those who would like to write a longer essay (10-15 pages) for writing credit (W) are welcome to do so; please get in touch with me to discuss this option

Questions? Please contact Olga Levaniouk at olevan@uw.edu.

 % Score     Grade                    Score         Grade                    Score         Grade

100-94      4.0                         83              3.0                         73              2.0
93              3.9                         82              2.9                         72              1.9
92              3.8                         81              2.8                         71              1.8
91              3.7                         80              2.7                         70              1.7
90              3.6                         79              2.6                         69              1.6
89              3.5                         78              2.5                         68              1.5
87              3.4                         77              2.4                         67              1.4
86              3.3                         76              2.3                         66              1.3
85              3.2                         75              2.2                         65              1.2
84              3.1                         74              2.1                         64              1.1
                                                                                                63              1.0

Land Acknowledgment:

I am a white person of Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian, Polish and Belorussian descent, and I am teaching this course on the Seattle campus of The University of Washington, which occupies the unceded lands of the Coast Salish Peoples, the lands which touch the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Duwamish, Puyallup, Suquamish, Tulalip, and Muckleshoot nations, whose ancestors have dwelt here since time immemorial and who live here today.  

You can learn more about the history and culture of the Duwamish people from the resources at duwamishtribe.org. (Links to an external site.) Real Rent Duwamish (Links to an external site.) offers a collection of resources to learn more about the practices of Land Acknowledgement here (Links to an external site.)

If you have comments about this Land Acknowledgement, please let me know: olevan@uw.edu




Policies and useful links:


Please put your phone on vibrate and keep it out of the way during class. Please NEVER RECORD, AUDIO OR VIDEO, ANYTHING IN THIS CLASSROOM without first requesting permission from me and you peers.

Student conduct: The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at https://www.washington.edu/studentconduct/ (Links to an external site.)

Safe Campus (Links to an external site.): Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime – no matter where you work or study – to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others.

Disability Resources (Links to an external site.)

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Religious accommodations

“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/) (Links to an external site.). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/) (Links to an external site.).”


Learning Support:


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.
GE Requirements Met:
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
April 14, 2024 - 4:56 am