This course name and description ONLY applies to academic year 2021-2022

CLAS 13186-1: National(ist?) Epics: Identity and History in Five Epic Poems

Instructor: Brian Krostenko

What makes the identity of a nation? How are cultural truths or national myths drawn from historical events? What is the value, and the price, of creating a national myth? How do individuals find their place in their nations? In the Western tradition, epic poetry, which blends the symbolic, the historical, the personal, and the national, has been a prime vehicle for reflecting on such questions. Those questions will guide our approach to five epic poems from different stages of European history considered classics by their cultures. Homer’s Iliad (7th–6th c. BC?), drawing on much older bardic traditions, is a tale of war and honor set during the siege of Troy, a defining moment of the Greek experience. The Odyssey is the tale of the return home of a veteran of the sack of Troy and his reintegration into society. Vergil’s Aeneid (1st c. BC) is a mythic treatment of the birth of Rome, considering its glory and its costs. The Song of the Nibelungs (12th c. AD) is a German tale of romance, revenge, and honor set at the court of the Burgundians. Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz (19th c.), set chiefly in 1811, recounts the tale of two feuding noble families against the backdrop of the ‘Third Partition,’ when Poland had been divided up between Russia, Austria and Prussia and when hopes were high that Napoleon’s army would liberate Poland.