Course dates

Tuesday 31 Jan 2023
6:30-8:30pm | 5 weeks

Course overview

Our understanding of classical literature has been enriched by modern authors who undertake creative interpretations and retellings of epics. In this course, you will read and discuss the Iliad and discover the poem’s reception in the work of contemporary writers who have turned to the classics for inspiration.

To avoid disappointment, please book your place on the course 72 hours prior to its commencement

This introductory 5-week course will cater to readers and creative writers who wish to learn more about a text which has fascinated audiences for many centuries, and about contemporary retellings which emphasise the richness and relevance of the ancient poem. It is suitable for those who are new to the classic text as well as fans of contemporary writing, contemporary historical fiction, retellings of Greek myths and classical literature.

You will discover that the Iliad is intensely concerned with the telling and retelling of stories, and offers abundant opportunities for teasing out previously untold tales. You will explore the ways in which retellings of the ancient epic can both anticipate and participate in the classical canon’s democratic turn, highlighting moments of openness and flexibility in the ancient text. Creative writers may find inspiration for their own Homeric retellings.

You will become familiar with the Iliad’s striking portrayal of war and the distinctive similes of everyday life which act as a counterpoint to the action. You will develop an understanding of the poem’s reception in novels by Pat Barker, Emily Hauser and Madeline Miller, and in poems by Christopher Logue, Michael Longley and Alice Oswald. Working within the epic tradition allows these 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 see how these writers mediate their Homeric retellings with personal experiences of conflict or on the history and literature of war.

In the first four weeks, you will discuss sections of the Iliad and compare contemporary writers’ responses to particular characters and episodes. In the final week, you will focus on two of the most popular recent prose retellings: Madeline Miller’s 'The Song of Achilles' and Pat Barker’s 'The Silence of the Girls.' You will 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 will examine how our understanding of the Homeric poem has been enriched by the perspectives of previously silent characters.

It is recommended that you read the Iliad in translation before the course begins, and revisit the relevant section week by week. Excerpts from the contemporary retellings will be provided in advance, and you should expect to spend an hour or two reading these each week. For the final week, you should read one or both of the prescribed texts, or bring in your own example of an Iliad retelling.


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.

Booking information

Disability support

We are committed to providing reasonable teaching adjustments for students with disabilities that may impact on their learning experience. If you require adjustments, please contact us at so we can respond to your requests as soon as possible.

Tuesday 31 Jan 2023
6:30-8:30pm | 5 weeks


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Tutor information

A smiling photo of Dr Isobel Hurst

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).


Course structure

Week 1 – Invocations and the epic tradition

Reading: Iliad books 1-3, excerpt from Emily Hauser, 'For the Most Beautiful'

Week 2 – Heroes and gods

Reading: Iliad books 4-10, excerpt from Alice Oswald, 'Memorial' and poems by Michael Longley

Week 3 – Achilles and Patroclus

Reading: Iliad books 11-18, excerpt from Christopher Logue, 'War Music'

Week 4 – Fathers and sons

Reading: Iliad books 19-24, poems by Michael Longley

Week 5 – The reception of the Iliad

Reading: Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles and Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls;  or bring in your own example of an Iliad retelling.


Learning outcomes

During this Short Course you will:

  • Discuss the themes of Homer’s Iliad 
  • Analyse the thematic and formal features of ancient epic
  • Discuss the ways in which classical epic is alluded to, commented on and continued in contemporary literature
  • Analyse literary responses to the Homeric poems by contemporary authors
  • Learn how to draw inspiration from classical writing or incorporate aspects of classical epic in your own writing

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. 

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