Comparative Literature | Spec Topics in Comparative Literature: The Renaissance Epic
C301 | 18582 | S. Van der Laan

3 cr
Meets TR 2:30-3:45 pm
Fulfills CS and A&H Distribution Credit
Meets with Hon-H303

The Renaissance saw the last great flowering of the Western epic
tradition. After centuries of relative neglect, the epic became once
again the form of choice for poets intent on exploring nationhood,
community, and the human spirit on a grand canvas. More than any
other literary genre, the epics of Christian Europe reached back to
those of classical Greece and Rome for their poetic vocabulary of
nationhood and the role of the individual in that nation. Why should
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so "early modern" in many
other respects, have been the last to turn to this ancient form for
their national poems? How did the belatedness of this recovery shape
these epics? How did the epic tradition change in response to the
transformed cultural and religious context�or, to paraphrase a
recent study of this problem, how does epic make the
transition "from many gods to one"?

In this course we will concentrate on four major Renaissance epics:
Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso, the astonishing fusion of the
medieval tales of Arthurian and Carolingian knights with the epic
and contemporary concerns of nation-building and a clash of
civilizations; Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, a narrative of
the first Crusade composed at the height of the Counter-Reformation;
Luis Vaz de Camoes's Os Lusiadas, which celebrates the Portuguese
explorations of Africa and the Indian subcontinent; and John
Milton's Paradise Lost, which responds to the fall of the English
commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy by looking back to
a greater Fall and imagining a final, triumphant recovery. By
studying these poems together, we will locate them in a European
epic tradition stretching back to Homer, a tradition that reaches
across linguistic and national boundaries. We will uncover the
extraordinary intertextual and allusive richness of the epic
tradition. At the same time, we will situate each poem in its
contemporary literary and historical context in order to understand
how the epic responds to and attempts to reshape its cultural and
political environment.