English 266: World Literature to 1700

Spring 2007

TTh 12:00-1:15


Charles Ross, Professor of English

Office hours: W 2-5:00 or by appointment

Heavilon Hall 304A

tel. 4-3740

email: cross@purdue.edu

web page: Boiardo.com


Required Text

q       The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, vol. 1, 8th edition, available at University Bookstore or Follett’s.

Related Web Site

q       First Lines: A Project in Global Diversity http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rosscs/First%20lines/First%20Lines.htm (or via Boiardo.com)


Course Description:

This is a course in the close reading and appreciation of some of the most famous literary texts in the world, all of which were written when writing was the dominant medium (as opposed to speech or film, for example). This course serves as half of the introduction to the Comparative Literature major. It also applies to the English major and to certain Education majors.


Course Goals:

After finishing this course, you should know something about the major authors and forms of Western and world literature (drama, poetry, narrative, and non-fiction) from the beginnings until about 1667. You should know something of the history of ancient Greece, Rome, the Mediterranean, Western Europe, and China. You should understand the difference between prose and verse, also have a sense of what it means for literature to be written in the high style, and understand the symbolic nature of literary language.


Course Methods:

To read old texts is to enter different worlds, to escape the limits of our own time and place, to learn something about somewhere else. Were the people for whom these works written different from us? If so, can they possibly have anything to teach us today? How can we possibly understand them? To help us compare our own culture to the past, this course will try to develop three fields of inquiry: Translation, Customs, and Intentions. Focusing on translation helps us develop a sense of what it means to bring another language into English. To do this we will sometimes look at comparative translations and also at the original languages. Samples of the works in the original languages will be found at web project First Lines (which you can access via BOIARDO.COM). Customs are useful things to think about because they help us realize not only what others take for granted, but that are own behaviors do not necessarily follow universal standards of right and wrong. The issue of intentionality helps us understand what literary characters do. In general they either suffer and endure or take action. As modern people we believe in controlling our own destiny and therefore favor those works of art that show us the results of intentional acts (tragedy, for example), but literature often surprises us by representing forces beyond the control of humans. The nature of these forces, like the customs of diverse societies and the special magic of different languages, help us understand the developments that made us who we are today.



1. Two midterms and a final exam. The exams are not cumulative.

2. A 3 to 5-page paper due March 1. There will be a handout describing the paper, for which you may choose to compare either two characters or two similar situations or discuss various translations, key ideas such as customs or values, or significant actions in relation to literary scenes.

3. A 5 to 10-page paper due April 26. I will read your paper and give you comments, without a grade, if you hand in the paper by April 17. You can then revise.

4. Revised project. To be assigned, but the idea is to get 2-10 friends to watch and comment on 2-10 videos (a total of 20 comments) of either the First Lines videos or the YouTube versions (if I can get produce them) by the end of the semester.



Jan. 9: Gilgamesh; Genesis 1-3, pp. 1-43. PowerPoint

Jan. 11: Genesis 4, 6-9, 11, 7-19, 25, 27, pp. 44-53 


Jan. 16: Genesis 37, 39-46 (Joseph), Exodus 19-20, Job, Psalms, Song of Songs. pp, 54-99.

Jan. 18: Homer, Iliad 1, 6, 8, 9, 16, 18 (cf. Aeneid 8, pp. 1014-1018), 22, 24, pp. 100-206


Jan. 23a, b: Homer, Odyssey 1-6, 9, 21, pp. 206-279, 301-315, 452-462. [ Song of Deborah and Iliad review (6 minutes); Odyssey (last 20 minutes)]

Jan. 25: Aeschylus, Agamemnon, pp. 502-550.


Jan. 30: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, pp. 607-652

Feb. 1: Sophocles, Antigone, p. 653-668


Feb. 6: Hesiod, Herodotus, Thucydides, pp. 784-816.

Feb. 8: Meeting in STEW214ABC for Prof. Henry Weinfield’s reading from his translation of Hesiod.


Feb. 13: Plato, from The Republic, pp. 817-824; Aristotle’s Poetics 779-784; Midterm Review

Feb. 15: 1st Midterm (pre-Roman literature)


Feb. 20: Virgil, Aeneid 4, pp. 975-995; Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 1 pp. 1023-33

Feb. 22: The New Testament, pp. 1082-1097 [Paul’s Epistles and Acts]


Feb: 27: Petronius, pp. 1064-1082, Augustine, Confessions, pp. 1114-1141

Mar. 1: The Koran, pp. 1143-1173


Mar. 6: T’ang Dynasty Poetry: see First Lines: Chrétien de Troyes, pp. 1325-1374

Mar. 8: Beowulf, p. 1180-1197


Mar. 13: Spring Break

Mar. 15: Spring Break


Mar. 20: Dante’s Inferno 1-5

Mar. 22: Purgatorio, 1, 2, 21, 22, 30; Paradiso 33


Mar. 27: no class

Mar. 29: 2nd Midterm


Apr. 3: The Thousand and One Nights, pp. 1769-1783; Boccaccio, The Decameron, pp. 1598-1634; Chaucer, General Prologue, pp. 1701-1705 (lines 1-202)

Apr. 5: Decameron: Day 4, Story 9


Apr. 10: Decameron: Day 9, Story 6; The Renaissance (p. 1883); The Song of Roland (p. 1274, line 1015); Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (p. 1967); Petrarch (Ascent of Mount Ventoux, p. 1901)

Apr. 12: Shakespeare, Hamlet (Fortune images, p. 2439, 2444); Sonnets: Edmund Spenser (1916), Sir Philip Sidney (1917), Shakespeare and Giambattista Marino (1918).


Apr. 17: 47; Montaigne, from Essays, pp. 2178-2221; Machiavelli (1959); Erasmus (1943); Donne (2048).

Apr. 19. No class.


Apr. 24: 20. Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part 1-8, pp. 2217-2253; Part 2, chpts. 73-74, pp. 2342-23

Apr. 26: Milton, Paradise Lost, 1, 9, pp. 2550-61; 2594-26


Final Exam: Monday April 30, 1:00 PM to 3:00 HEAV 128



Υοu must get an A on at least two exams (including the final) and on one paper and no less than a B on the other assignments to get an A in the course.

Study Hints:

1) Read the assigned pages before class.

2) For each day, try to find a different translation for at least one sentence in the assigned reading and compare it to the text chosen by the editors of the Norton Anthology.

3) Think about the social world these works describe and the standards that determine right and wrong.

4) Each day find one person who you think performs the most important action, by which I mean, find a character who faces a significant choice in the scene as presented and acts on it (that is, not someone who has made his decision earlier).

3) Bring your text to class and take notes.

4) I will try to tape classes but the technology is not great. You will find the tapes on the course syllabus, which you can read from my home page by first going to Boiardo.com.

5) If you are trying to figure out what I like, you might look at my translation of Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato or Statius’s Thebaid. By the end of this course you will know who Boiardo and Statius are.



Purdue requires the following notice: “In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines and grading percentages are subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or other circumstances. Here are ways to get information about changes in this course.” To get information about changes, you can go to my web page BOIARDO.COM or email me at cross@purdue.edu. I will be in contact by email based on the SIS generated class list.