Course overview



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 online course, 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.

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 Iliad 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 Iliad’s striking portrayal of war and the distinctive similes of everyday life which act as a counterpoint to the action.

Looking at contemporary novels by Pat Barker, Emily Hauser and Madeline Miller, and in poems by Christopher Logue, Michael Longley and Alice Oswald, you'll explore how working within the epic tradition has allowed these writers to demonstrate their skill in handling 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'll also discuss how these writers mediate their retellings with personal experiences of conflict or on the history and literature of war.

In the first 4 weeks, you'll discuss sections of the Iliad and compare contemporary writers’ responses to particular characters and episodes. The final session 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’ and 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 Iliad in translation before the course begins is recommended. Excerpts from the contemporary retellings will be provided in advance, and you should expect to spend an 1 or 2 hours 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.

Course structure

  • Session 1: Invocations and the epic tradition. Reading: Iliad books 1-3, excerpt from Emily Hauser, 'For the Most Beautiful'.
  • Session 2: Heroes and gods. Reading: Iliad books 4-10, excerpt from Alice Oswald, 'Memorial' and poems by Michael Longley.
  • Session 3: Achilles and Patroclus. Reading: Iliad books 11-18, excerpt from Christopher Logue, 'War Music'.
  • Session 4: Fathers and sons. Reading: Iliad books 19-24, poems by Michael Longley
  • Session 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

  • Develop your critical skills, analysing the thematic and formal features of Homer’s Iliad.
  • 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 analytical skills, studying literary responses to 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.

Booking information

Please note our short courses sell out quickly, so early booking is advisable.


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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.

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).


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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