FYS*101*37 Description


First-Year Seminar


This course explores ancient but enduring images of the hero, including ambition, achievement, and failure. Our focus will be the 'imagined' hero in poetry, especially epic poems from different national and cultural traditions. We will meet the wise Väinämöinen in Kalevala, the national epic of Karelia and Finland. We will sing (or read, at least) the heroic deeds of Charlemagne's nephew from the oldest extant epic poem in French, the Song of Roland, and explore why in the German Song of the Nibelungs the dragon-slayer Siegfried is ultimately defeated. Then we will venture further east, considering the unsuccessful raid of Igor, Svyatoslavovich from The Lay of Igor's Campaign, and the massacre at night as is depicted in the Sanskrit epic of ancient India, the Mahäbhärata. Analyzing these texts, or excerpts from them, will allow us to understand different stories about heroes from the perspective of different cultures. It will also help us grapple with questions of human responsibility, ability, and limitations, and the degree to which these central concerns of human existence are universal or local and particular. In this first-year seminar, students will develop better research, writing, and presentation skills by completing several short written assignments, working on a research project, and sharing their findings with class. Above all, students will gain a critical, culturally-attuned understanding of the aspirations, achievements, and failures of heroes in literary and cultural imagination.