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The First Day

I.  Course Introduction.

Hi, all,

I have a few beginning announcements.

  1. The class links, including the syllabus, are located at this URL: http://www2.latech.edu/~bmagee/475-575_epics/475nav.shtml.  The assignments should stay as they are now, but I'm still adding page numbers and note links, so refresh the page from time to time.
  2. 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 charge.  Contact me if you have any questions.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. I'll give you a quiz after every epic (7 total).  It'll be available on Moodle Friday through the weekend. 
  6. We'll have one essay exam.
  7. 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.
  8. We will have discussions on Moodle each week.  For each discussion question, write at least one response and reply to two others.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Let me know if you have any questions

Bruce R. Magee

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II.  Science done badly

Lecture 1.B.ii. -- Science Done Badly

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 they discuss.

  1. Hawking & Mlodinow place mythology into an evolutionary framework of epistemology (theory of knowledge):
    1. "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 myth? 
    2. "But eventually, people turned to philosophy, that is, to the use of reason — with a good dose of intuition — to decipher their universe.
    3. "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.
  2. 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. 
  3. In his 1969 book In Praise of Play, Robert E. Neale the stages people go through in relation to their sacred beliefs:
    1. Believe.  In this phase, we simply accept the stories at face  value.  Santa is real.
    2. Disbelieve.  We start to doubt that the stories are literally true, and lose faith in them.  Santa is not real.
    3. 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 transcendence.

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.

 Who is playing Stephen Hawking in this clip?  Why?  Robert E. Neale wrote In Praise of Play: Towards a Psychology of Religion in 1969.  In it he argues that there are three stages in our approach to myth, individually and as a culture:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Enterprise

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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.

ἔπος , older ϝέπος SIG9 (v. infr.), etc., εος, τό (Skt.
  1. A.vαcas 'word', 'hymn', cf. εἶπον):
    1. παύρῳ ἔπει in short utterance, Pi.O. 13.98 ; “ἐπέων κόσμος” Parm.8.52, Democr.21 ; “ἔπους σμικροῦ χάριν” S. OC443 ; “λόγοι ἔπεσι κοσμηθέντες” Th.3.67 : generally, that which is uttered in words, speech, tale, “ἔπος ἐρέειν” Il.3.83, etc.; “φάσθαι” Xenoph. 7.3, Parm.1.23, etc.; joined with μῦθος, Od.4.597, 11.561.—Special uses,
      1. song or lay accompanied by music, 8.91,17.519.
      2. pledged word, promise, Il.8.8 ; τελέσαι ἔπος fulfil, keep one's word, 14.44, cf. A.Pr.1033.
      3. word in season, counsel, Il.1.216, 2.807, Od.18.166, etc.; freq. in Trag., E.Hel.513, etc.
      4. word of a deity, oracle, Od.12.266, Hdt.1.13, etc.
      5. saying, proverb, “τὸ παλαιὸν ἔπος” Id.7.51, cf. Ar.Av.507.
      6. word, opp. deed, ἔπε᾽ ἀκράαντα words of none effect, opp. ἔτυμα, Od.19.565, cf. E.HF111 (lyr.); opp. ἔργον, Il.15.234, Od.2.272, etc., cf. 11.1 ; “αἴτε ϝέπος αἴτε ϝάργον” SIG9 (Elis, vi B.C.); opp. βίη, Il.15.106 ; opp. χεῖρες, 1.77 (pl.).
      7. subject of a speech, message, 11.652, 17.701, S.OT 1144, etc.
    2. later usages,
      1. joined with ἔργον or “πρᾶγμα” Heraclit.1, A.Pers.174 (troch.), Ar.Eq.39, etc.; “ἔργῳ τε καὶ ἔπει” Pl. Lg.879c ; “ἅμα ἔπος τε καὶ ἔργον ἐποίεε” Hdt.3.134 ; “χρηστὰ ἔργα καὶ ἔπεα ποιέειν” Id.1.90.
      2. κατ᾽ ἔπος word by word, “κατ᾽ . βασανιεῖν φησι τὰς τραγῳδίας” Ar.Ra.802.
      3. πρὸς ἔπος at the first word, Luc. Ep.Sat.37.
        1. word in exchange for word, ἀμείβεσθαι, ἀποκρίνεσθαι, of an oracle, Id.Alex.19, Philops.38 ; also “. δ᾽ ἀμείβου πρὸς .” A.Eu. 586, cf. Ar.Nu.1375, Pl.Sph.217d.
        2. οὐδὲν πρὸς . to no purpose, Ar.Ec.751 ; also, nothing to the purpose, “ἐὰν μηδὲν πρὸς . ἀποκρίνωμαι” Pl.Euthd.295c, cf. Luc.Herm.36 ; τί πρὸς ἔπος; Pl.Phlb.18d.
      4. ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν almost, practically, qualifying a too absolute expression, esp. with πᾶς and οὐδείς (not with metaphors), Pl.Ap.17a, Phd. 78e, Grg.456a, al., Arist.Metaph.1009b16, Pol.1252b29, D.9.47, etc. ; opp. ὄντως or ἀκριβεῖ λόγῳ, Pl.Lg.656e, R.341b ; later “ὡς . ἐστὶν εἰπεῖν” POxy.67.14(iv A.D.) ; in Trag., “ὡς εἰπεῖν .” A.Pers.714(troch.), E.Heracl.167,Hipp.1162, once in Pl.,Lg.967b(s.v.l.).
      5. ἑνὶ ἔπει in one word, briefly, “ἑνὶ ἔπεϊ πάντα συλλαβόντα λέγειν” Hdt.3.82.
    3. of single words, esp. with ref. to etymology or usage, Id.2.30, Ar. Nu.638, Pl.Prt.339a, etc.; ὀρθότης ἐπῶν,=ὀρθοέπεια (q.v.), Ar.Ra. 1181 ; ἄριστ᾽ ἐπῶν ἔχον ib.1161.
    4. in pl., epic poetry, opp. μέλη (lyric poetry), ἰαμβεῖα, διθύραμβοι, etc., “ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων ἀοιδοί” Pi.N.2.2 ; “τὰ Κύπρια ἔπεα” Hdt.2.117, cf. Th.1.3, X.Mem.1.4.3, Pl.R.379a, etc. ; “ἔπεά τε ποιεῖν πρὸς λύραν τ᾽ ἀείδειν” Theoc.Ep.21.6 ; “νικήσας ἔπος” IG3.1020 ; ποητὴς ἐπῶν ib.7.3197.9 (Orchom. Boeot.), cf. OGI51.37 (Egypt, iii B.C.).
      1. generally, poetry, even lyrics, Alcm.25(prob.), Pi.O.3.8, etc.
      2. lines, verses, esp. of spoken lines in the drama, Ar.Ra.862, 956, etc. : sg., verse, line of poetry, Hdt.4.29, Pl.Min. 319d ; group of verses, Id.R.386c, Hdt.7.143.
      3. lines of writing, “μυρίων ἐπῶν μῆκος” Isoc.12.136 ; ἐν ὅλοις ἑπτὰ ἔπεσι παραδραμεῖν, of a historian, Luc.Hist.Conscr.28.
        Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940. 

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.

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