You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monsters, Gods, and Heroes: Approaching the Epic in Literature

Monsters, Gods, and Heroes: Approaching the Epic in Literature
is a course from the Modern Scholar library. The lecturer is Professor Timothy Shutt.

The professor distinguishes between two kinds of epics. Primary epics are those based directly on oral tradition, having been written down from a poem created over many tellings. Secondary epics are those with a more literary tradition, based on primary epics and each other. All epics reflect grand themes of their society.

Shutt describes the major epics of Western literature, starting with the Iliad the the Odyssey. The them of individual achievement, or arete, pervades these works. Achilles is the finest example of a warrior, and Odysseus is the most crafty man. Both exemplify personal excellence. Virgil's Aneas, on the other hand, exemplifies a leadership and sacrifice for the common good. Aneas leads his people to their destiny, sacrificing his own desires.

Beowolf is the other primary epic discussed. Beowolf's confrontation with Grendel and his mother represents triumph over the murderous nature of men. His fight with the dragon shows the inevibility of fate and death for all men.

Shutt's favorite epic is Dante's Divine Comedy. He traces the geography of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante's creation is truly inspired. The circles of Hell show a constricting of spirit, and the mountain of Purgatory shows an ever increasing spirit as lesser sins are purged. Along the way, Dante puts his political enemies and friends in their places.

The last two epics are Spenser's The Fairie Queen and Milton's Paradise Lost. Both are Christian epics, though with different Protestant viewpoints. Spenser's work is a vast allegory, where each person or item represents another concept in religion. Milton's poem is the story of Lucifer's fall from Heaven. Lucifer's anger and defiance of God is a quintessence of man's separation from God.

All of these epics have themes that are significant in their own culture. And thus they are good examples of the culture's literature. Shutt does a pretty good job of elucidating the plot, style, and themes of the epics. It made me want to read the Aeneid and Paradise Lost, and perhaps reread The Inferno and read the rest of the Divine Comedy.

I especially liked the description of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven fromt Dante's imagination. The linking of the map of these places to the soul is very illuminating. This lecture gets an A.


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