Classical literature has fascinated audiences for centuries, including contemporary authors whose retellings creatively reinterpret the epics and explore their relevance to modern life. On this 5-week live on campus course, you will read and discuss the Odyssey and discover the poem’s reception in the work of contemporary writers who have turned to the classics for inspiration.
This course is suitable for those who are new to the classic text as well as fans of contemporary writing, historical fiction, retellings of Greek myths and classical literature.
Led by Dr Isobel Hurst, a specialist in the reception of Greek literature in English, on this course you'll discover that the Odyssey is concerned with the telling and retelling of stories and offers abundant opportunities for teasing out previously untold tales. You'll become familiar with the Odyssey’s fantastical journeys and mythical monsters, the powerful female figures who beguile the hero, his encounters with the living and the dead and the complexities of coming home after a prolonged absence.
Looking at contemporary texts by Margaret Atwood, Madeline Miller, Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Longley, Linda Pastan and Louise Glück, you will explore how working within the epic tradition has allowed writers to demonstrate their skill in the handling of inherited materials. They take a playful approach to the canon, experiment with form, address controversial issues or identities and introduce the voices of characters who were silent in the ancient epics. You will also discuss how these writers mediate their retellings with personal and contemporary allusions, creating what Elizabeth Dodd has described as ‘personal classicism’.
In the first 4 weeks, you'll read and discuss sections of the Odyssey and compare contemporary writers’ responses to specific characters and episodes. The final session will focus on Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’ (2005) and you'll examine the ways in which the formal and thematic characteristics of the ancient epic are appropriated and adapted by contemporary writers. This will include how they engage with classical epics to question: constructions of gender; notions of heroism; exploration and returning home; the representation of conflict; and the role of the storyteller. You'll also examine how our understanding of the Homeric poem has been enriched by the perspectives of previously silent characters.
Reading the Odyssey in translation before the course begins is recommended. Excerpts from the contemporary retellings will be provided in advance, and you should expect to spend one or two hours reading these each week. For the final week, you may also wish to bring in your own example of an Odyssey retelling to supplement the groups discussion of the Penelopiad.
- Session 1: Telemachus and his father. Reading: Odyssey books 1-5, poems by Linda Pastan, Louise Glück .
- Session 2: Journeys. Reading: Odyssey books 6-10, poems by Linda Pastan, Carol Ann Duffy, Louise Glück, excerpt from 'Circe' by Madeline Miller .
- Session 3: From the Underworld to Ithaca. Reading: Odyssey books 11-18, poems by Michael Longley.
- Session 4: Homecoming. Reading: Odyssey books 19-24, poems by Linda Pastan, Michael Longley.
- Session 5: The reception of the Odyssey. Reading: Margaret Atwood, 'The Penelopiad'.
- Develop your critical skills, analysing the thematic and formal features of Homer’s Odyssey.
- Practice how to articulate your appreciation of contemporary literature, discussing the ways in which classical epic is alluded to, commented on and continued in the work of contemporary authors.
- Hone your analytic skills by studying literary responses to the Homeric poems by contemporary authors.
- Learn how to draw on inspiration, from classical writing or incorporate aspects of classical epic in your own writing.
You'll receive a digital certificate of completion if you attend 80% of the course.
Early bird price: £170 Standard price: £200
Goldsmiths offers a 15% concession rate on short courses to Lewisham Local cardholders, Students and Goldsmiths Alumni. Please note these concessions cannot be applied to early bird bookings.
Please note our short courses sell out quickly, so early booking is advisable.
If you have any questions about this course please contact shortcourses (@gold.ac.uk).
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Dr Isobel Hurst
Dr Isobel Hurst is Lecturer in English at Goldsmiths. Her research examines the reception of Greek and Latin literature in English, looking at the connection between classical education and authorship and women writers’ creative engagement with the classical tradition. She is the author of Victorian Women Writers and the Classics: The Feminine of Homer (2006) and has published essays in the Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry (2013) and the Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature (2015). Her work on contemporary women writers and the classics appears in Living Classics: Greece and Rome in Contemporary Poetry in English (2009), the Classical Receptions Journal and Homer’s Daughters: Women’s Responses to Homer in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (2019).
About the department
The Department of English and Creative Writing is one of the largest and most dynamic in the University. We offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, with a strong research focus on critical and creative practice. Whether you are interested in classical literature and/or linguistics or creative writing and contemporary fiction, our range of interdisciplinary courses has something to offer everyone. The Department has four Research Centres and a Writers' Centre, which holds regular events that are open to the public. As well as the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, the Centre for Comparative Literature, the Centre for Critical and Philosophical Thought, and the Decadence Research Centre, we are proud to be the home of the Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre and the Goldsmiths Prize, which is in its 10th year of celebrating fiction at its most novel.