The grand tale known as the epic is an ancient genre that goes back to the dawn of literature. Think of the heroes battling for glory in the Aeneid, or the fall of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. To get an overview of these grand tales in western literature and see how they reflected their cultures, check out The Epic (iTunes), a UC Berkeley course co-taught by Maura Bridget Nolan and Charles Altieri.
This course moves along briskly. So far, in seven weeks it has covered the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid and the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. If you were enrolled and trying to keep up with the reading you would probably be up late many nights. Fortunately, with podcasts you can take things more leisurely. Nolan and Altieri take turns lecturing, sometimes in alternate class sessions and sometimes within the same session. I confess a great preference for Nolan, who provides cultural background and close readings that show how the poets refer to each other in a grand conversation that crosses the centuries. I’m not as fond of Altieri, but give him a try. Your mileage may vary.
The class will also cover Milton’s Paradise Lost and then jumps into modernity with James Joyce’s Ulysses.