English 698,
Odysseys

Autumn 2016

Jack Lynch

This course is a test-run — now offered under the vague title “readings in literature” — for what should become a new course called “Literary Afterlives.” The idea is to trace the reception history of a major work or author across the centuries, and to think in depth about the nature of “influence,” the idea of the “classic,” the creation of canons, and so on.

For this first iteration of the class I'm focusing on Homer's Odyssey as it echoes through literary history. We'll start by reading Homer's epic very carefully in Robert Fagles's translation (comparing a few selected passages in many English versions), and then turn to some of the works it has influenced or inspired, beginning with the Latin classics — selections from Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphoses — a few poems from the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century, a seventeenth-century opera, and then some major works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: Joyce's Ulysses, Walcott's Omeros, and Atwood's Penelopiad. We'll also spend some time on the visual arts, from sixth-century-BCE vase paintings to Romare Bearden's Black Odyssey.