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CLAS 424 A: The Epic Tradition

Squatting warrior
Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
OUG 141
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 424 A

Syllabus Description:

CLAS 424/ C LIT 424 The Epic Tradition

Winter 2020 T/Th 3:30-5:20pm in Odegaard 141

Professor Megan O’Donald                                                                  E-mail:

Office:  Denny 400k                                                                              Dept. of Classics phone: 206 543-2266

Office Hours: Tues 2:10-3:10 & by appointment


Course Overview

This course examines ancient heroic epics within and beyond the Greek and Roman poetic tradition(s) with the aim of situating some of the most well-known texts surviving from classical antiquity within a broader comparative framework. Readings include the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, and the Irish Tain Bo Cualnge. In addition to discussing the historical backdrops of the texts and the traditions in which they were composed, we will pay close attention to the ways these epics served as vehicles for the transmission of information and values deemed important by the cultures that produced them. Topics to explore include ancient concepts of heroism, the human in relation to the monstrous and the divine, social hierarchies and depictions of otherness, and the ways the texts leverage mythical history as a way of negotiating cultural identities.

The core of this course entails reading the epics and coming to class prepared to discuss. In-class work will include listening to short lectures, engaging in group discussions, and working individually or in groups on assignments that approach the texts from different angles.

Required Texts

  1. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Translated by Andrew George. Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (April 29, 2003).
  2. The Iliad, Homer. Translated by Caroline Alexander. Ecco; reprint edition 2016
  3. The Odyssey, Homer. Translated by Emily Wilson. Norton 2018
  4. The Aeneid, Vergil. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics; reprint edition 2008
  5. The Tain: Translated from the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge by Thomas Kinsella. Oxford University Press 2002.

Course Evaluation















Final Exam



Course Policies

  • Preparation

Your main responsibility in this course is reading the epics and coming to class prepared to discuss them. The reading is substantial, and it is important that you not underestimate the time it will take to complete it.

Prior to the start of each class, I will ask you to write and submit on Canvas a 150-word (minimum) informal response to a prompt about the reading assigned for each day; in addition to answering the prompt, you can use this space to briefly record your reactions, thoughts, and/or questions about the content of the reading. These responses will be graded out of three points on the basis of completion and demonstration of engagement with the text (please note that they should not contain summaries of the text). They will be due at least half an hour before the start of each class. I am the only one who will see your Canvas responses, but they are intended to help you prepare for in-class discussions. The lowest three scores will automatically be dropped at the end of the quarter.

  • Participation

Participation reflects your engagement in in-class discussions and activities. Come to class on time and prepared to contribute, and be respectful and supportive of the contributions of your classmates. Plan to bring a laptop or tablet to each class, as some in-class activities will require one.

  • Paper

Due on the last day of class. You will write a four-page academic paper that develops one of the ideas outlined in your responses or discussed in class (or another topic, if you consult me first).

  • Tests

There will be a midterm (February 11) and a final exam (March 19th) of equal length. The midterm will cover Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Tain; the final will cover the Odyssey and the Aeneid. On each test you will be asked to identify and comment on passages from the texts we have read. Under university guidelines, tests can only be made up under specific circumstances:

  • Course Conduct

Do not use cell phones in class. Laptops and tablets may be used only for purposes relevant to the class. Taking notes by hand in a notebook is highly encouraged.

The active learning classroom in which our class is held does not permit food, so do not eat in class. Beverages are allowed in covered containers. There will be a 7-minute break halfway through each class during which you may leave the classroom.

If absence is unavoidable due to illness or other legitimate circumstances (e.g. court date, family emergency), please contact me via e-mail to let me know before class. If you are absent, it is your responsibility to find out what you missed in class and to catch up on any missed work. I cannot provide you with notes in the event of a missed class.

Per university policy, I cannot discuss grades during class or via e-mail. If you have concerns about your grade, I am happy to discuss them with you in my office.

  • Access, Accommodations, Additional Resources

UW’s Disability Resources for Students (DRS) enables accommodations for temporary health conditions or permanent disabilities, including but not limited to mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts. If you have an arrangement with DRS, please communicate with me about relevant accommodations. If you have not yet established services through DRS, you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or

A list of diversity, equity, gender and sexuality, harassment, mental health, economic, and disability resources available at UW can be found at

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 ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

  • Academic Integrity

All students are expected to abide by the university’s policies for academic integrity, and all work submitted must be your own. The university does not tolerate cheating or plagiarism of any sort. The university’s policies can be found here:



Readings are due on the day for which they are listed.

                                                           Tuesday                                    Thursday

Week 1 (Jan. 7/9)                   Introduction                            Epic of Gil. pp. 1-47

Week 2 (Jan. 14/16)              Epic of Gil. pp. 47-100        Iliad Books 1-5      

Week 3 (Jan 21/23)               Iliad 6-10                                   Iliad 11-15

Week 4 (Jan 28/30)                Iliad 16-20                              Iliad 21-24

Week 5 (Feb 4/6)                     Tain pp. 52-167                      Tain pp. 168-253

Week 6 (Feb 11/13)                Midterm                                  Od. Books 1-5

Week 7 (Feb 18/20)                Od. 6-10                                  Od. 11-15

Week 8 (Feb 25/27)                Od. 16-20                                Od. 21-24

Week 9 (Mar 3/5)                     Aen. 1-3                                  Aen. 4-6

Week 10 (Mar 10/12)            Aen. 7-9                                  Aen. 10-12


Final Exam: Thursday, March 19, 4:30-6:20pm


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: 
November 6, 2019 - 12:35pm