Honors | The Renaissance Epic (HON)
H303 | 15679 | Sarah Van der Laan
Meets with CMLT-C 301
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.
The small northern Italian city-state of Ferrara, in the sixteenth
century a cultural powerhouse to rival the Florence of a century
before, provides half our syllabus: Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando
furioso (1532), 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, and
Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (1581), a narrative of the
first Crusade composed at the height of the Counter-Reformation.
Luis Vaz de Camões’s Os Lusíades (1572) celebrates the Portuguese
explorations of Africa and the Indian subcontinent; John Milton’s
Paradise Lost (1667) 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. We will also examine both Renaissance and
modern theories of epic.
Through this course, students will develop the ability to
1) explore and appreciate the Renaissance epic tradition.
2) situate individual epics in their generic and cultural contexts
and to evaluate the impact of both diachronic and synchronic forces
on individual works.
3) analyze works of literature; understand how they create meaning
as well as what they mean.
4) write argumentative literary criticism, grounded in close
readings of individual passages and making clear, coherent, and
insightful claims for the importance of those readings.
All readings are subject to change. You are responsible for bringing
all assigned readings to class and for completing all reading
assignments before the class meets.
The following books have been ordered at the IU Bookstore in the
IMU. ISBN have been included for your convenience, should you wish
to purchase used or discounted copies elsewhere. You are welcome to
do so, but you must use these translations.
Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando furioso. Trans. Barbara Reynolds. 2 vols.
New York: Penguin. ISBN 0140443118 and 014044310X
Camões, Luís Vaz de. Õs Lusiads. Trans. Landeg White. Oxford: Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0199539960
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Rev. ed. David
Scott Kastan. Indianapolis: Hackett. ISBN 0872207331
Tasso, Torquato. Gerusalemme liberata. Trans. Anthony Esolen.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801863236
All other texts will be made available in the Resources section of
Oncourse. You are responsible for bringing all texts to class with
Midterm paper 25%
C301: Final paper
H303: Research paper 25%
Final exam 20%
Attendance and Participation 10%
This course substitutes a series of Monte Carlo Quizzes (MCQ) for a
traditional midterm exam. At the beginning of each Wednesday’s
class, a roll of a die will determine whether a quiz will be
administered; a second roll of the die will determine which of six
set questions will form that day’s quiz. The set questions and a
grading rubric will be posted in the Resources section of Oncourse.
All students will write a seven-page midterm paper. Students
enrolled in C301 will write a seven-page final paper. Students
enrolled in H303 will write a longer research paper as their final
project (see below).
Each paper will be graded on the quality and depth of your ideas, on
the clarity and sophistication of your thesis statement and
argument, on your use of evidence from primary sources, and on your
written expression (including grammar, spelling, punctuation, and
All papers should follow the MLA citation format. You can
familiarize yourself with MLA style on the IU Libraries’ website at
I will be happy to meet with you to discuss your ideas for your
papers or to read abstracts or thesis statements. If you would like
me to look at your work, please submit it to me no less than a week
before the relevant paper deadline. Please note, however, that
simply incorporating my comments into your finished essay will not
necessarily result in an improved grade; genuine revision and
additional thought will be required.
A hard copy of each paper must be submitted at the beginning of
class on the due date. An electronic copy must also be uploaded to
the assignments section of Oncourse by 5:00 pm on the due date. Late
papers will be accepted without penalty only in case of illness,
emergency, or religious observance; proof of the reason for the
delay may be required. Unexcused late papers will receive a grade
penalty of a third of a grade (for example, from A to A-) for each
day that they are overdue. If you think you may require an
extension, ask before the deadline and as far in advance as possible.
Research Paper for Honors Students
Students enrolled in HON H303 will write, as their final paper, a
ten- to twelve-page research paper involving the use of at least
five works of secondary criticism. A paper proposal must be
submitted no later than two weeks before the paper deadline, and
students must meet with me individually to discuss the proposed
topic and to revise the list of additional reading for the paper.
A two-hour final exam will ask you to identify and briefly discuss
the significance of quotations and images and to write a longer
essay in response to a given prompt.
Attendance and participation in class are mandatory. Attendance will
be taken, but physical presence is not enough to earn a full
attendance and participation grade. Active and constructive
participation in class discussion is required. If you must miss a
class meeting, please email me in advance if possible; if not,
please email me as soon as possible after your absence. Absences
will be excused only in case of illness, emergency, or religious
observance; proof of the reason for the absence may be required. You
may have one unexcused absence without affecting your grade for the
course. Further unexcused absences will result in a lowered
You are welcome to drop in to my office hours or to email me to set
up appointments at other times. I strongly encourage you to come to
me with questions about any aspect of the course.
What Is Plagiarism?
“Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else’s work, including
the work of other students, as one’s own. Any ideas or materials
taken from another source for either written or oral use must be
fully acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge. What
is considered “common knowledge” may differ from course to course.
a. A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, opinions, theories,
formulas, graphics, or pictures of another person without
b. A student must give credit to the originality of others and
acknowledge an indebtedness whenever:
1. Directly quoting another person’s actual words, whether oral or
2. Using another person’s ideas, opinions, or theories;
3. Paraphrasing the words, ideas, opinions, or theories of others,
whether oral or written;
4. Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative material; or
5. Offering materials assembled or collected by others in the form
of projects or collections without acknowledgment.”
—Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, Part II,
Student Responsibilites, Academic Misconduct, By action of the
University Faculty Council (April 12, 2005) and the Trustees of
Indiana University (June 24, 2005). [qtd. in How to Recognize
Plagiarism. 7 November 2005. Indiana University School of Education.
August 26, 2009. <http://www.indiana.edu/~istd/definition.html>.]
Put bluntly, plagiarism is theft. Plagiarism is also fraud.
The IUB School of Education offers an on-line tutorial on plagiarism
and correct acknowledgement of sources:
http://www.indiana.edu/~istd/. You are required to complete this
tutorial, to print out and sign a copy of the confirmation that you
have passed the test, and to submit this certificate in class on 20
January. You may not receive credit for any written work until I
have received your signed certificate. The grade for any paper
submitted before a certificate has been submitted will be penalized
as if the paper had been submitted on the date that you submit your
certificate. Confirmation that you have passed the self-check quiz
linked to on the site is not acceptable; you must pass the test that
ends the tutorial.
Penalties for Plagiarism
I will file a report for any instance of plagiarism or other
academic misconduct committed in this course. The procedures that
follow are outlined in the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities,
and Conduct. In addition, any student caught plagiarizing will
receive a grade of zero for the plagiarized assignment and for
attendance and participation. I will use Turnitin.com to ensure the
academic integrity of all work submitted for this course.