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Epics of Rome

This subject explores Ancient Roman epic poetry, the literary genre which deals with grand mythical narratives involving heroes, gods, war, and love affairs. Epic was the most prestigious literary form in the ancient world. Roman poets adapted and developed Greek epic, particularly influenced by the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey. Roman epics similarly deal with divine and heroic material, but Roman poets also weave contemporary and topical themes into the mythical subject matter. The primary text for this subject is Ovid's Metamorphoses, which tells many comic tales of the gods in love and encounters between heroes and monsters through a series of transformations. Epics which influenced Ovid will also be studied, such as the Greek epics of Homer, the early Roman epics of Naevius and Ennius, and Virgil's Aeneid, which was the most significant influence on Ovid. We shall also consider Ovid as a major influence upon Western artists and writers, from Shakespeare to David Malouf.

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Early Roman Epic, Part I

Where did Roman epic poetry come from? In the third century BCE Latin literature emerged in the form of drama and epic. Ancient Greek literature was influential, and Rome’s first epic was a kind of Greek-Roman hybrid, appropriately by an author with a Latin and a Greek name; it was a Greek tale, but written in a native Italian form. This lecture will explore how Roman writers founded a distinctive style by infusing Greek epic with Roman material. We’ll also see how problematic early epic is, for it unfortunately survives only in fragments. Copyright 2014 Rhiannon Evans / La Trobe University, all rights reserved. Contact for permissions.

13mins

5 Mar 2014

Rank #1

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Introducing Ovid’s Metamorphoses

When Virgil died in 19 BCE, the Aeneid became an instant classic, and even before his death references had been made to it in the works of other authors. In some ways it may have seemed impossible to write epic now – how could you follow up Virgil? The up and coming poet, Publius Ovidius Naso was working on quite a different form of poetry, and composed his love poems, the Amores around the time of Virgil’s death. Even in a different genre, Ovid cannot help but be aware of the Aeneid’s presence; but when he did come to write his own epic poem, he chose to give us an alternative to the traditional, monolithic narrative. The Metamorphoses deconstructs epic poetry and is a brilliantly daring composition in its own right. Copyright 2014 Rhiannon Evans / La Trobe University, all rights reserved. Contact for permissions.

48mins

25 Mar 2014

Rank #2

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Epic and Augustus: Poetry and Politics

Virgil’s Aeneid is the first complete Latin epic which remains to us, and it is arguably the most important literary work we have from ancient Rome. Virgil lived at a time of enormous political and social upheaval: this lecture will address the ways in which Virgil’s poetry refers to contemporary events. We shall consider the much-discussed position of Virgil as pro- or anti-Augustan, and think about whether this terminology is relevant. Copyright 2014 Rhiannon Evans / La Trobe University, all rights reserved. Contact for permissions.

47mins

12 Mar 2014

Rank #3

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Early Roman Epic, Part II

Where did Roman epic poetry come from? In the third century BCE Latin literature emerged in the form of drama and epic. Ancient Greek literature was influential, and Rome’s first epic was a kind of Greek-Roman hybrid, appropriately by an author with a Latin and a Greek name; it was a Greek tale, but written in a native Italian form. This lecture will explore how Roman writers founded a distinctive style by infusing Greek epic with Roman material. We’ll also see how problematic early epic is, for it unfortunately survives only in fragments. Copyright 2014 Rhiannon Evans / La Trobe University, all rights reserved. Contact for permissions.

22mins

5 Mar 2014

Rank #4

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Ovid Metamorphoses: Gods and Nymphs

On the surface Ovid’s Metamorphoses appears to question traditional gender norms, in particular those held about elite Roman men. Even women are given the opportunity to tell their own stories in the poem. Yet, the Metamorphoses is full of stories about violent rapes that effectively silence the voice of the victim. Moreover, women are often presented in two stereotyped roles: as lovers or mothers. This then raises the question of whether or not gender stereotypes about women are really contested in Ovid’s work, and it would seem that, as is often the case with Roman literature, which was almost always written by men, we then learn more about male views of women than we do about real women. This is not to say that gender is entirely stable in the Metamorphoses but that the work is ultimately concerned with the male gaze. Copyright 2014 Rhiannon Evans / La Trobe University, all rights reserved. Contact for permissions.

46mins

1 Apr 2014

Rank #5