The story of Rama is one of the most popular tales among the people of India, where it holds great religious significance. The tale has been recounted for generations, and there are several versions of the story, but the main outlines remain the same, with Rama and Sita as the idealized versions of man and woman. To the Western reader the characters may appear to be human beings with supernatural powers, roughly equivalent to certain figures in Greek legend and myth, but to Hindus the characters of the Ramayana (the fortunes of Rama) are more than this; they are gods. Scholars disagree on which of the various versions of the Ramayana came first, and the problem of which parts are found in the original story and which are additions by later generations of storytellers will perhaps never be solved. The best approach for a general reader is probably to accept the story as it is told.
The Ramayana is one of two Hindu epics, the other being the earlier Mahabharata. Whereas the Mahabharata is a heroic (or folk) epic deriving from an oral tradition, the Ramayana is more nearly a literary epic, written in conscious imitation of the heroic tradition. Whatever the original may have been, the Ramayana has been altered many times by subsequent rewriting and critical revision. In its extant versions, the Ramayana contains about twenty-four thousand couplets (less than one-fourth the length of the Mahabharata) and is divided into seven books (the Mahabharata has eighteen books). Of the seven books of the Ramayana, the central story covers books 2 through 6; book 1 is introductory. Book 7 appears to be a species of appendix; it provides both epilogue to and critique of the preceding six books. It also provides instruction for the recital of the Ramayana by minstrels, in much the same way that medieval texts coach jongleurs in their repertoire and their performance. The Ramayana, like most Western epics and unlike the Mahabharata, has unity, which stems from its concentration on one main story.
One of the major themes in the central narrative of the Ramayana is the relationship between destiny and volition, with the consequent consideration of personal responsibility or the lack of it. The key questions ultimately revolve around the power of the gods, for the keeping of human promises hinges on belief in divine retribution. Hence King Dasa-ratha rescinds his proposal that Rama should succeed him as regent in order to honor his prior promise to Queen Kaikeyi. So, too, Rama dutifully accepts Bharat as regent and goes into exile, in deference to the king’s expressed wishes (really, the gods’ demands). Just as Rama accepts...
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In this course you will encounter some very old tales: the traditional, heroic epics that for centuries served, and still serve, as a way for people to create a legendary past for themselves, to define themselves, and to connect the past to present and future. We will focus on traditional tales passed down orally from one generation to the next and visit many times and places, from the ancient Near East, Greece, and India, to medieval Central Asia and Europe. We will read, in whole or in part, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Ramayana, the Tain Bo Cualnge and epic tales from Turkic and Slavic traditions. The goal is to delve into these fascinating tales in all their variety and to get a sense of what we know and how much there is to explore.
In essence, this is a read and discuss course, and the best part of it is always the exchange of opinions in class. There is no secondary literature to read, at least none that is required: the background information will be provided in class, while the students’ task is to read the epics themselves and come to class with thoughts and questions. There will be three hour-long non-cumulative tests (mostly commenting on passages we talked about in class) and one short writing assignment. Each student will be responsible for taking the lead in discussion of a reading assignment—that is, of reading one assignment with special care and thinking of some questions/subjects to discuss with peers (i.e. this is not a report—rather, the task is to get the discussion going).
No previous familiarity with the epics we’ll read is assumed or required (but you will learn a lot even if you have read some of these poems before!).
Questions? Please contact Olga Levaniouk at email@example.com.
COURSE INFORMATION AND SCHEDULE OF READINGS
Winter 2017 TTh 10:30-12:20 Denny 259
Olga Levaniouk firstname.lastname@example.org
Denny M262B, (206) 543-2266
Office hours: TTh 9-10am
- 1. The Epic of Gilgamesh, by Andrew George. Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (April 29, 2003).
- TheIliad, Homer. Translated by Stanley Lombardo, introduction by Sheila Murnaghan. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1997.
- The Odyssey, Homer. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, introduction by Carne-Ross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Pub. 1998.
- 4. The Mahabharata: a shortened modern version of the Indian Epic. Translated by R.K. Narayan, foreword by W. Doniger.
- Ramayana, Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic. Translated by R. K. Narayan. Penguin Books 2006.
- 6. The Tain: Translated from the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge by Thomas Kinsella. Oxford University Press 2002.
midterm 20% final 20%
quizzes: 20% (5% each)
class participation 20% essay 10%
in-class presentation 10%
The midterm will be devoted to the Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Tain, the final to the Odyssey, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. Both exams will consist in commenting on passages.
The quizzes, no more than 10 minutes in length, will consist of several factual questions.
The essay (ca. 6 pages in length) is due on the last day of class; topics tba.
In-class presentation is really an exercise in discussion leading. Each student will be responsible for one book of the Iliad or the Odyssey, or a section of another epic. The student's task is to "introduce" that book/section in class, formulate some questions about it, and get the discussion going.
Make-up tests will be given only if the original tests are missed for respectable reasons (e.g. illness, family emergency, or a religious observance, if advance notice is given). There will be no extra-credit assignments.
Please note that there is no textbook for this course. What is said in class will be your main source of information, and subjects discussed will be important for the tests. We will go over important points repeatedly, but it is the responsibility of each student to take notes if necessary. No notes will be provided by the instructor in case of missed class.
1/5 Gilgamesh I (pp.1-47)
Report options: Enkidu (pp.1-22, Tablets I and II),
Journey to the Cedar Forest (pp.23-39, Tablets III and IV),
Humbaba (pp. 39-47, Tablet V)
1/0 Gilgamesh II (pp.47-100)
Reports: Ishtar and the Bull of Heaven (pp. 47-54 , Tablet IV) Zach
Death of Enkidu and Grief of Gilgamesh (pp. 54-69, Tablets VII and VIII), Rose
Gilgamesh’s Quest for Immortality (pp.70-87, Tablets IX and X) Faruk
Uta-napishti and Immortality Denied (pp. 88-99, Tablet XI) Alana
1/12 Iliad 1-5. QUIZ 1.
Iliad 1: Karen
1/17 Iliad 6-10.
Iliad 6: Maya
Iliad 7: Matt
1/19 Iliad 11-15.
Iliad 13: Nefertari
1/24 Iliad 16-20.
Ilad 16: Phillip
Iliad 17: Sam
Iliad 18: Alea
1/26 Iliad 20-24. QUIZ 2.
Iliad 22: Kelly
Iliad 24: David
1/31 The Tain I (pp. 52-167).
Report options: Beginning of the Tain and the Boyhood Deeds of Cuchulainn (52-92).
Cuchulainn in Battle (137-156).
2/2 The Tain II (pp. 168-253)
Report options: Combat of Ferdia and Cuchulainn (168-205).
Ulster Rises and the Last Battle (206-253)
2/9 Odyssey 1-6
Odyssey 5: Beccy
2/14 Odyssey 7-12
Odyssey 9: Mallory
Odyssey 11: Dick
Odyssey 12: Kaia
2/16 Odyssey 13-18. QUIZ 3.
Odyssey 13: Joe
Odyssey 16: Jiaxuan
2/21 Odyssey 19-24.
Odyssey 19: Dahyuk
Odyssey 21: Pauli
2/23 Mahabharata I (Narayan 1-83) and handout.
Report options: Beginning and players (1-19)
Fire, Draupadi and Indraprastha (20-53) Hayden
Draupadi’s bridegroom choice (handout)
Dice and exile (54-83).
2/28 Mahabharata II (Narayan 84-179) and handout.
Report options: Nala and Damayanti (handout)
End of exile and servitude (84-111),
Battle and the end (143-179),
3/2 Ramayana I. 3-89. QUIZ 4.
Report options: Rama’s Initiation (7-21)
The wedding (21-32)
Rama’s exile (33-61), Jiaxuan Tu
Soorpanaka and Sita’s abduction (62-89)
3/7 Ramayana II. 90-157, handout.
Vali and the Vanaras (90-105),
Crossing the Ocean and Siege of Lanka (121-147), Kyle Return, Coronation (147-157),
Sita’s exile and the end (handout)
3/9 Conclusion. Sita Sings the Blues.
FINAL: Monday, March 13, 10:30-12:20 in Denny 259.