A word about the texts. Six of our seven epics are
very old and therefore in public domain. I'm fine
with you using alternate translations that you find
online. I have a free text of Evangeline
on my web site. You'll need to order The
LaLaurie Horror; the bookstore had some
problem getting it. Amazon has it in paperback and
Kindle versions; if you need a version for a machine
reader, the author has offered to supply it free of
me if you have any questions.
I'm trying to make everything iPhone friendly.
That means my syllabus and notes should fit well on your
smart phones. Also, I'm posting recordings of my
lectures on the notes pages. The links are surrounded by
boxes The first downloads the mp3 to your device.
The second is an iTunes link; the third a Stitcher
link. The last streams the recording to your
device. My goal is for you to be able to listen to
the lecture while you follow along in the notes
page. iTunes and Stitcher both work on my iPhone;
Stitcher is available for Android devices as well.
All of it is free. Let me know if you hit any snags
with the downloads.
I number the lectures by week and period for a normal
quarter Tuesday-Thursday class. So Thursday of the
second week would be 2B. Mostly you just need make sure
the number of the lecture you're listening to matches the
number in the notes.
I'll give you a quiz after every epic (7 total).
It'll be available on Moodle Friday through the
We'll have one essay exam.
Everybody will write a research paper. The criterion
sheet is posted here: http://www2.latech.edu/~bmagee/406/crit406.htm.
Undergraduate papers should be 9-10 pages; graduate
students should write papers that are 13-15 pages
long. Use MLA form with at least 10 sources, with a
mixture of primary and secondary sources.
We will have discussions on Moodle each week. For
each discussion question, write at least one response and
reply to two others.
Please study the Greek
alphabet. I like to use important Greek terms
in my lectures, plus learning a little Greek will begin to
lift you out of barbarism.
Graduate students. In addition to
the longer paper, graduate students will need to give a
presentation and lead a discussion. I'd like you to
present your research paper findings to the class and lead
a discussion on the topic--that way all your work ties
together. For your presentation, you can use MS
PowerPoint, Emaze, Haiku Deck (has an
iPad app version), Prezi, or Sliderocket,
Slides, etc. It's
important to select one you are comfortable with.
They all have learning curves. I tried to learn
Prezi last year without much luck but went back to
PowerPoint. I like the way Prezi presentations look but
couldn't get it to do what I wanted.
Why study epics and their reliance on ancient mythology?
Haven't we outgrown those old stories? That's one popular
approach to old myths. The other approach is that it's
turtles all the way down, a wooden, literal approach that
conflates the mythic world and the scientific one.
Read Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, Joseph Campbell, and
Kimura Kyūho on basic
approaches to myth. There are two basic approaches
Hawking & Mlodinow place mythology into an evolutionary
framework of epistemology (theory
"Ignorance of nature's ways led people in ancient times to
postulate many myths in an effort to make sense of their
world." Hawking and Mlodinow are mainly focusing on etiology myths. What is an etiology
"But eventually, people turned to philosophy, that is, to
the use of reason with a good dose of intuition to
decipher their universe.
"Today we use reason, mathematics and experimental test
in other words, modern science." People who try to use
outdated mythology to guide their science are guilty of
science done badly. To this I would add that they are
also doing mythology badly. In the old story of "It's
turtles all the way down," the very act of asking an
Enlightenment question changes the nature of the myth in the
mind of the believer. Most of us have very
sophisticated ideas about myth except concerning our
own. We don't feel the need to find the sun tunnel
under the earth Gilgamesh travelled through; however, we are
tempted to go to great extremes in such a project where the
Bible is concerned.
Campbell deals with myth as an entirely different project
from science. Science can deliever facts; mythology
points us toward the Truth. All symbols point to something
beyond themselves; mythology is such a system of communication
rooted in our Jungian collective unconscious.
In his 1969 book In
Praise of Play, Robert E. Neale the stages people
go through in relation to their sacred beliefs:
Believe. In this phase, we simply accept the stories
at face value. Santa is real.
Disbelieve. We start to doubt that the stories are
literally true, and lose faith in them. Santa is not
Make believe. We re-enter into our myths, rituals,
and traditions as make believe, a way of putting on another
version ourselves, a path to finding that way to
Which brings us back to Stephen Hawking. As one of the
smartest people in history, does his belief that mythology is,
in my words, science done badly make him immune to the allure of
a good myth? Watch this clip of Holograms Playing Poker.
Believe. In this phase we uncritically accept the
stories people tell us as true on their face. This is
the age where you believe Santa Claus is real.
Disbelieve. You realize that the story is not literally true
and dismiss it as untrue. This is the age where you
realize Santa Claus is not coming to town.
Make believe. English professors call it "suspension
of disbelief" because it sounds fancier. It's a way of
entering into the story or ritual. This is the point
where you become Santa for your kids or dress up like a Wookie
to attend a Star Wars convention. This is what Stephen
Hawking is doing in the clip. Even the world's smartest
man, who thinks he's advanced beyond myth, can't resist the
temptation to play cards against Data on the star Ship
III. An Epic Definition
As befits a word like 'epic', it has an epic definition.
It is an ancient Greek word that has come down to modern
English. Here is the definition from the Liddell and Scott
Greek dictionary. The definition from the Oxford
English Dictionary is similarly hefty.
While definition IV is the one most specifically about
epic poetry, many of the others are also germain. (I told
you we'd use Greek!)
My own definition is that an epic is a long, narrative
poem involving the actions of larger-than-life heroes,
often with the intervention of the gods and monsters.
Epics are frequently important for the ethnic identity of
the people who tell them. As the course progresses,
we'll see that there is also a great deal of diversity
among epics of different eras, nationalities, and
languages. These variables include subject matter,
divisions within the epic, meter, etc.