Studies in British Literature: Troy: History and Myth—Honors

Section 01
Lee Manion
Course Description

  Cross listed with MDVL_REN 2005-01

Why are we still talking about the story of Troy and the Trojan War? Did it even really happen? Was it fought over a woman whose “face…launched a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium,” as one poet puts it? Why is the discoverer of the site of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann, known incorrectly as the father of scientific archaeology? And why is a Trojan Horse something you do not want to get on your computer or cell phone?

This introductory honors course traces the story of the Trojans and the Greeks in history and myth from the classical period to the present. You will acquire expertise on major characters, including Helen, Achilles, Patroclus, Hector, Paris, Odysseus, Penelope, and Circe, as well as confront several of the challenges in determining the relationship between the historical city of Troy and its many fictional versions. To do so we will explore archaeological evidence, discuss the war’s potential mythical or folkloric function, and examine literary retellings as well as more contemporary adaptations into art, graphic novels, and film.

Readings will include selections of Greek poetry by Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval poem Troilus and Criseyde, and William Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida. We will conclude with Derek Walcott’s epic Omeros (1990), Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (2005), and Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (2011), as well as some graphic novels and recent films. All readings not in English will be in translation. The course will examine topics such as the uses of the classical past, the impact of war and war literature, gender roles, sexuality, and race over time.