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Level 6

6AACTL65 Descent to the underworld: transformations of a myth

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2018/19: Professor David Ricks
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour class (weekly)
AvailabilityPlease see the module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 2-hour exam (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pattern for Semester 1 Study Abroad and Graduate Diploma students

The assessment pattern below applies to Graduate Diploma students, and Semester 1-only Study Abroad students (when the module runs in Semester 1). Study Abroad students otherwise follow the undergraduate assessment pattern listed above. 

Assessment: 2 x 2000 word essays (100%, each essay worth 50%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

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.

How have successive generations of poets imagined the afterlife? That large question, to which few can be indifferent, is the topic examined in this module. Its aim is to cover a wide range of belief systems within a broadly Western ancestry that find very varied expressions in the poetic tradition.

The first half of the module covers three of the most central treatments of the Underworld in the ancient world, ranging from the early wisdom literature of the Near East (Akkadian and in turn Sumerian), to the second epic of the Greek tradition, the Odyssey, to Augustan Rome and the formative epic of the West, the Aeneid.

In the second half of the module we explore a range of texts reflecting (or in some cases bypassing) a Christian view of the afterlife, beginning in sixth-century Syria with the most celebrated hymn writer in Greek, Romanos, moving on to fourteenth-century Florence with Dante, and then turning to the older, arguably pre-Christian vision of Hades set out in Greek folk songs (collected from the nineteenth century, but with older roots), and finally the first modern Greek printed book, a descent to Hades composed by an otherwise unknown poet from Venetian Crete.

Suggested introductory reading

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

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet XII (any translation)
  • Homer, Odyssey xi (any translation)
  • Virgil, Aeneid vi (any translation)
  • Romanos, 'On the Triumph of the Cross', tr. E. Lash
  • Dante, Inferno, selected cantos (any translation)
  • Greek folk songs of the underworld (tr. David Ricks) 
  • Bergadis, Apokopos, tr. M. Alexiou
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