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Level 6

6AACTL50 Living for ever: fame and glory from Homeric heroes to Roman emperors (and beyond)

Credit value: 30 credits
Module convenor/tutor
: Dr Victoria Moul
Teaching pattern: 20 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 3-hour examination (100%)

Assessment pattern for Graduate Diploma students

Assessment: 3 x 3,000-word essay (100%, essays worth 1/3 each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The motif of lasting fame and glory as a route to immortality is a very ancient topos of praise, which typically extols both the poet (who confers the fame) and the addressee (for instance, a hero or king). Its long history extends from the beginnings of extant Indo-European literature (including Homer’s Iliad, and the Vedic hymns of early India) through to the present day, in which the conferral of ‘lasting fame’ remains a cultural trope.

This module will trace the development of this trope, and its literary, cultural and political significance, with particular attention to the ancient Greco-Roman world. Considerable attention will be paid to textual evidence (all presented in translation) as well as to the literary and historical contexts in which these instances appear. Particular questions to consider will include: the basic outline of the motif and its most enduring elements; the relationship between various instances of the tradition (for instance, between Greek and Roman versions of the motif); the possibility of irony and the refusal to immortalise (with particular attention to the Roman motif of recusatio); the political and moral dangers of such fame; and, in the final part of the module, the reception of these motifs in later Western writing dependent upon the classics (e.g. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson).

This module aims to introduce students to a distinctive feature of classical literature and thought – the trope of everlasting fame and glory – as it appears in a range of literary and cultural contexts from the earliest Indo-European material (e.g. in Homer and related early Indic sources), through major works of Greek and Roman antiquity and into later literary material based upon the classics. Students will develop an ability to balance close attention to particular sources with an awareness of their cultural and historical context. They will develop in particular an understanding of the way in which a given motif is passed down in various forms from one culture to another, inflected in each instance by contemporary concerns. In developing this understanding they will gain expertise in interpreting secondary scholarship from a variety of disciplines – linguistic, literary and historical. They will also gain an understanding of how scholarship on one textual artefact (for instance, Homer’s Iliad) may be used to increase their understanding of a text from a different context and period (for instance, Horace’s Ars Poetica). This module will equip students to assess the creation and development of a cultural tradition, and to interpret different instantiations of that tradition across a wide range of temporal and geographical contexts.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Portions of texts for close study will include: Homer, Iliad; Pindar, Odes; Virgil, Aeneid and Georgics; Horace, Odes and Ars Poetica; Ovid, Metamorphoses.
  • Martin West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford, 2009)
  • Calvert Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon (Oxford, 1995)
  • Philip Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of Fama in Western Literature (CUP, 2012)
  • Piero Boitani, Winged Words (Chicago, 2002)
  • Michael Putnam, Artifices of Eternity (Cornell, 1986; repr. 1996)
  • JSTOR: online journal archive: -
  • Perseus project:
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