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ENG590: Reimagining Classics: Homer's Odyssey

The literature of ancient Greece and Rome has been received, resisted, used and misused by many cultures that followed.

The literature of ancient Greece and Rome has been received, resisted, used and misused by many cultures that followed. Homer, who died more than two thousand years ago, has had a rich afterlife, becoming the model for Vergil and then influencing Dante Alighieri, John Milton, Derek Walcott and Margaret Atwood. Homer's ghost still speaks to us today, and we speak back to it, and this dialogue with the past says as much about Homer as it does about our own values and preoccupations. In this interdisciplinary class, taught jointly by a member of the Classical Languages Department and a member of the English Department, we will select a single work of ancient Greek or Roman literature, read it in translation and then trace its afterlife from antiquity to the present day. This year's case study is Homer's Odyssey, which, along with the Iliad, is the oldest work of Western literature. Its hero Odysseus is a "complicated man," as Emily Wilson renders the opening line of the epic - a husband who cheats on his wife, a leader who leaves his men behind, a father who barely knows his own son, a character whose story is ripe for reexamination with a fresh and critical eye. So we will start by reading Emily Wilson's acclaimed new translation of the Odyssey and then jump to modern retellings that may include such genres as poetry (Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson), fiction (Home by Toni Morrison and excerpts from Ulysses by James Joyce), drama (The Odyssey: A Stage Version by Derek Walcott), fantasy (The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood), short fiction (The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason), young adult fiction (Circe by Madeline Miller), and cinema (O Brother, Where Art Thou directed by Joel and Ethan Coen). The course will culminate in a final creative project that will allow students to speak back to Homer in their own voices. No previous knowledge of Latin or Greek is required or is expected.