Comparative Literature | The Renaissance: Epic Poetry
C325 | 25613 | Dr. Johnson

Spring Semester 2008
CMLT-C325 (25613)
The Renaissance: Epic Poetry
MWF 10:10-11:00AM
J. Johnson
Provides Art and Humanities and Cultural Studies A credits

Imperial ambition. Holy war. The triumph of technology: These are
among the most powerful forces that shape our world today, and epic
poetry of the European Renaissance dramatizes them with artistry and
sophistication that are hard to forget. For roughly two millennia
throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, the epic genre was
celebrated as the crowning achievement of poetry: ambitious,
monumental, emotional, learned, and shocking.  For generations of
poets and their audiences, epic served as a repository for the
history of nations, revelations of divine will, the secrets of the
cosmos, codes of conduct, visions of the afterlife, and explorations
of the human psyche. Renaissance poets in particular used the epic
genre to question the heights and limits of human achievement, to
investigate the ancient past and the possible futures of favored
civilizations, and to visualize interactions of the human and the
divine. We will be reading three epics in their entirety: Luis Vaz de
Camões’ The Lusíads (the tale of Vasco da Gama’s circumnavigation of
Africa); Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (a fantasy on the First
Crusade of the Middle Ages); and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (the
fall of Satan, Adam, and Eve). We will begin the semester with
Vergil’s Aeneid as a lens through which to view the Renaissance
poets’ depictions of the epic hero, the growth and decay of empires,
and humanity’s attempts to grasp the divine will. The metamorphosis
of the epic genre will be of particular interest as we watch our
authors present themselves as poets, prophets, and historians.
Workload will consist of two analytical essays, a final exam, an in-
class presentation, and short writing assignments. For more