Love, War, Myth: From Classical to Contemporary Arts

Winter Term 2018  ||  Tuesday and Thursday 3:00-4:15  ||  Classroom: Seton 532

Course Description

The influence of ancient Greek and Roman texts has permeated the Western tradition for millennia. In our sampling of some of these works, we will read the lyric love poetry of Sappho, Homer’s epic accounts of the Trojan War and its aftermath in The Iliad and Odyssey, selections from Virgil’s work, and excerpts from the mythological poetry of Ovid. One aim of the course will be to understand these texts in their own literary and historical contexts, but we will also look at how later writers and other artists have used these ancient works, with examples drawn from early modern poetry to contemporary popular culture, including the Coens’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Margaret Atwood’s play, The Penelopiad. Key concepts for examination will include adaptation, influence, translation, parody, and appropriation.

This course requires the occasional use of Moodle to supplement the work done in class.

Course Aims

Successful completion of this course will give you

  • some knowledge of influential texts from Greek and Roman antiquity which will enhance your understanding of later English literature
  • some understanding of concepts of translation and adaptation that will enable you to recognize how texts from the past remain vital in subsequent ages in various media
  • practice in expressing your views orally and in writing
  • experience in developing your research skills


  • If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho.  Anne Carson, trans. This text will be supplemented with various translations and adaptations of Sappho by other writers.
  • Homer. The Iliad. Edition to be announced.
  • Homer. The Odyssey. Edition to be announced.
  • The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Margaret Atwood.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen.
  • Ovid. Metamorphoses. Edition to be announced.
  • Along with these texts, we will also look at translations and adaptations in English literature, painting, sculpture, and dance throughout the ages

Trailer for The Penelopiad, Nightwood Theatre 2013

Evaluation.  (N.B. This evaluation scheme was used in 2015. Some revisions might be made for the 2018 version of the course).

2 essays:  50% of the total grade
Instruction in essay writing will be given in class. Due dates will be announced in class, on the syllabus, and on the course Moodle page. The essays are approximately 1500 words each. Both essays must be written in order to get a mark for the essay component of your grade.

Participation and responses:  20% of the total grade
This grade represents your engagement with the course material on a day-to-day basis. You will occasionally be asked to write responses in class or at home on the Moodle site. Professional and courteous behaviour in class and the quality and consistency of your contributions to class discussions are also part of this grade.

Final exam: 30% of total grade
The final exam is an opportunity to think about the course readings in new combinations and from a broader perspective. Normally, the exam consists of passages selected from ones that we have discussed in class and that you are asked to identify, analyze, and compare. Obviously, the best preparation for the exam is attending every class, bringing the text with you, keeping up with the assigned readings, and taking notes on the class discussions, including marking which passages we analyze together in class, along with actively addressing comments made on your essays and exercises.


The Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. A huge site that contains texts and images.

Classical Myth: The Ancient Sources. Laurel Bowman, University of Victoria. This site contains images, texts, a timeline, and other useful information.

Diotima: Materials for the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World.


Alkaios and Sappho vaseImage:  The image used above is a detail from an Attic vase (c. 470 BCE)  illustrating Sappho and Alcaeus. This image is taken from Wikimedia Commons. Information about the vase can be found in the Perseus Digital Library.

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