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Saturday Seminars: Three Great Epics

Saturday, June 24 at 9:30am to 12:00pm

Baker Downtown Center
975 High Street, Eugene, OR 97401

We will consider three works of adventure that become increasingly psychological as we move from ancient Greece to the present time. Homer’s Odyssey (700 B.C.?), George Eliot’s ;Silas Marner (1861) and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931) all present a hero or heroine on a quest. For Odysseus, the goal is home, for Silas Marner, it is at first gold and then the love of a child, and for Bernard, Rhoda and others of Woolf’s twentieth century novel it is immersion in collective community, of being a wave among waves. In this seminar, we will study the epic structure of blocking the protagonist from his or her goal with a follow-up of a final celebration of arriving at the destination. We will also study what we mean by “epic style,” or the grand way the poet or novelist finds in narrating his or her subject. As one great literary critic put it, epic “is nearest of all literary forms to the wish-fulfillment dream.” The seminar will be a balance of lecture and discussion with excerpts presented from DVDs and audio CDs.

Readings to acquire on your own:

Homer’s Odyssey. Richmond Lattimore’s translation recommended. Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2007)

George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Penguin Classics (2007). Editor David Carroll.

Virginia Woolf The Waves. Annotated Edition, Mariner Books (2006). Editor Mark Hussey.

Reading Assignments and Overall Plan

Week 1:  Homer’s Odyssey (700 B.C.?). Books 1-13. General Historical Background. Overview of epic structures. Discussion of Odysseus’s character and the other dramatis personae in the book.

Week 2: Homer’s Odyssey Continued. Books 16, 22-24. Discussion, in particular, of the father-son reunion and the controversial “justice” of the ending.

Week 3: George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861). The evolution of the novel form in England. George Eliot’s biography. Presentation of the “anonymous hero.” Discussion of the ambiguities surrounding the characters and their quests.

Week 4. Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931). Virginia Woolf’s inheritance of the psychological novel tradition. Her biography. Discussion of her modification of the epic tradition. Analysis of the cast of complex characters and voices.


Dr. Henry Alley is Professor Emeritus of Literature in the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.

Event Type

Lectures & Presentations, Seminar


Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management, Continuing and Professional Education, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Target Audience

All Students, Faculty/Staff, General Public, Alumni



$95 OLLI-UO Members; $135 General Community Members


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