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CLAS 424 A: The Epic Tradition

Meeting Time: 
MTWThF 12:30pm - 1:20pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 424 A
Olga Levaniouk
Olga Levaniouk

Syllabus Description:


Olga Levaniouk          

Denny M262B,  (206) 543-2266

NOTE: although the course is listed as daily 12:30-1:20 in fact there will be THREE zoom meetings per week: MWF 12:30-1:20. In addition, there will be  at least one (and no more than two) asynchronous hour of instruction per week, which will consist in something the students will be asked to watch or listen to at a time convenient to them. Usually, the asynchronous hour will provide background for the week and will consist in recorded lecture or PowerPoint presentations by the instructor, videos, podcasts etc.  I will be available for zoom office hours on TTh 12:30-1:20.


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. We will also take a brief look at epic tales from Turkic and Slavic traditions (brief because there is no suitable English translation available to read them fully). 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.

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 translation of the Odyssey (Norton 2017)—please feel free to do so. FYI this is the first translation of the Odyssey by a woman and it has received much attention and acclaim since its publication. I decided to order  Fitzgerald's translation for this course (I 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. This will look differently in 2020 because the course has to be online, but discussion will continue to be at the center of this course . 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 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 on the last day of class. 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 group activities including graded Friday groups (for Friday groups there will be a weekly activity involving answering a set of questions in a google doc or on canvas; each member of the group is encouraged to put in some work (say, answer a question or two) over the course of the week, then you finish it together as a group on Friday); you get one week "for free", i.e. missing one week will not affect your grade)

— before every live class (i.e. MWF by 12:30)  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.

—there may be be a discussion thread or two (for fun, voluntary, and ungraded)


Grade components:

10 group assignments, 4 pts each = 40 pts

25 responses, 5 pts each, 3 lowest dropped = 110 pts

essay = 30 pts

participation in class = 20 pts

total: 200 pts.


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


Policies and useful links:

Phones (in the hopes that we can do this face to face):

Please put my phone on vibrate, and keep it out of the way during class. Please NEVER RECORD, AUDIO OR VIDEO, ANYTHING IN THIS CLASSROOM. I would like this to be an open and respectful place to explore ideas and contribute to discussions without fear of embarrassment  or reprisals. 

Panopto: parts of this course, including  presentations by the instructor and, with permission, discussions by the students, may be recorded via Panopto and made available online for the participants in the course.

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 (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 or 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 ( (Links to an external site.). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form ( (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 C LIT 424.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
June 28, 2020 - 9:11pm