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A Man with Oar – Ulysses as a character and paradigm in medieval literature

Class at Faculty of Arts |


The topics

Fundamental texts (the first four lessons and throughout): Homer’s Greek Odysseus (see Murray's prose translation e.g. here:, Latin Ulysses of Dictys Cretensis (see Frazer's translation:

March 20: Classical texts in Christian hands (basic methods of allegorical interpretation)

March 27: Trojan war as a historical paradigm (Vergil, Geoffrey of Monmouth)

April 3: Dante Alighieri’s sinful Ulysses

April 10: Medieval Penelopes (Ovid, Boccaccio, Christine de Pizan)

April 17: Wise, travelling kings (Vita Apollonii regis Tyri)

April 24: Courtly travelers (stories of Tristan and Iseult, Chrétien de Troyes)

May 15: Modern echoes I. (James Joyce...)

May 22: Modern echoes II. (Ezra Pound...)


Ulysses of Ithaca, the architect of the Greek victory in the Trojan War, was famous in antiquity as a man of many faces, a warrior, a sage and a trickster – a king forced to wander around the Mediterranean Sea in search of his own kingdom. In this interpretative seminar we will focus on the forms this hero assumes in medieval literature. We will explore connections between his story and the omnipresent narrative of a sinful man trying to attain the salvation or a knight errant wandering in a dangerous wasteland and focus on relations of the medieval rep-resentations of Ulysses with different Penelopes or with their own royal power. Throughout, we will examine the ways of influence of the ancient stories on the latter literature, and the course is thus conceived as an introduction to reading and understanding medieval texts in general.

All texts will be available online in English translation. Actual order of the topics and texts for discussion will be fixed at the beginning of the course, in accordance with the preferences and needs of the participants.