In this seminar we will examine a set of oral works that are often referred to as “epic poems”: Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish, the Iliad and Odyssey, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, Beowulf, and the Song of Roland. While these works are often classified as literature (“something to be read”), they really are not. For example, no Sumerian ever sat up in bed reading a stack of clay tablets of the story of Gilgamesh to lull himself to sleep. So why were they actually written down?
We will not neglect the “literary” values of composition and storytelling of these works, but will focus more intensely on their role as performance art, more theater than novel, and the multiple types of performance through which they could be realized. We will also place them in their cultural setting. The cultural values that they reflected, amplified and transmitted, and the social groups that encouraged and supported these performances will be discussed.
Participants will be encouraged, but not required, to read as much or as little of these works as they wish. Volunteers, if so inclined, will be welcome to address the group with their own findings, opinions, and contributions.