Course: That's EPIC!

HC 221H

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

Whether a wave, sandwich, happening, or very long poem, we use “epic” to describe the huge, the monstrous, the supersized, the truly challenging that brings out the heroic in each of us. Our seminar learning community will imaginatively engage with The Odyssey and other works to see our own life stories illuminated and transformed through the lens of epic chronicles.

In the woods, on the wine dark seas, following the yellow brick road-- witches and monsters and tempters at every bend and even in the mirror: our course takes up a handful of famous classic epics: Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy—and how classic works like Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Thoreau’s Walden, or stories such as Beauty and the Beast and Wizard of Oz may express epic features. We will ponder how preposterous and outlandish scenarios can speak to us powerfully about our own lives today, whether thousands of years old clay tablets, stories chanted around a fire, or finely-crafted epic poetry, personal essays, lyric drama, or film musical. We will investigate these classics as case studies in the human imagination struggling to make sense of human challenges, consciousness, and conscience, using our own sense of life’s realities as our criteria for classics’ enduring power.

In activities ranging from our own dramatic enactments to rigorous analysis to reflections on films and written texts in journals and essays, old-school and new media, we will creatively engage with the way minds over time have interpreted and shared human experience. Through the magic mirror of works on love and war and identity and life dreams and goals, we may gain new understanding and appreciation of our own real life struggles--why classics matter utterly to us on our own journeys. Dante’s dark woods, the Walden woods where Thoreau tries to “live deliberately,” Dorothy’s whirlwind journey in Oz or Gilgamesh’s (like Dante’s) journey through hell, Odysseus’s turbulent seas, or the mirror in which Cyrano and the beast confront themselves, may reveal our own lives as epic terrain—and the wild and heroic in each person’s noble journey.