Syllabus for Comp Lit 100:1, Harsha Ram

Introduction to Comparative Literature:

The Literary Hero

Comparative Literature 100

Fall 2011:    Class hours Tue/Thu, 3.30-5.00 p.m., 205 Dwinelle

Instructor:  Professor Harsha Ram. E-mail:

Office:           6108 Dwinelle Office Hours: Mon. 11.30-1.30

Course Description: What is a hero? What are the origins of the hero as a cultural and literary construct? Originating in myth, the folktale and religious cult-worship, the hero is also present in most literary genres as a central protagonist who acts or is acted upon, and around whom the plot generally revolves. Literary genres determine the kind of heroes that arise, their internal traits and their mode of being in and acting upon the world. This semester we will be examining various types of heroes as they relate to their fictional worlds and to the genres they inhabit: the mythic hero, the tragic hero, the epic hero, the hero of romance, and variants of the romantic hero such as the Gothic and the Byronic. We will be reading extensive literary criticism and some literary and philosophical theory, from Joseph Campbell and Northrop Frye to Hegel, Kojève, and Bakhtin. We will be examining different approaches to literary texts, from traditional historical philology to structuralism, philosophical criticism, and feminism. The course can also be read as a survey of certain aspects of the Western tradition from ancient Greek myth and tragedy, via Milton’s epic, down to nineteenth-century British and Russian romanticism. Throughout the semester we will be following on the heels of the hero Prometheus – rebel and trickster, the stealer of fire and mentor to the human race. Prometheus is the prototypical hero, embodying the collision between human creativity and freedom and the constraints of a social or divine order. He has surfaced at different moments in Western history, from archaic Greece to Athenian democracy to modern Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. The crisis of the Promethean hero delineated by the European romantics allows us to ask what kind of hero – or antihero – is still possible in modern literature.

Books to be purchased at the Student Bookstore:

Hesiod, Theogony, trans. Richard S. Caldwell (Focus Classical Library) 0-941051-00-5
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, trans. J. Scully and C.J. Herington, (OUP) 0-19-506165-9
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (Norton Critical Edition) 0-393-09164-3
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Norton Critical Edition) 0-393-96458-2)
Lord Byron, The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics) 978-0-19-953733-4
Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of our Time (Penguin Classics) 0-140-44795-4


5 written assignments (1-2 pages)                          50%
Midterm (Take-home Assignment)                        15%
Class Presentation and Discussion                          10%
Final Paper:                                                                       25%

Week 1 August 23: What is a hero?

Tue: No Class

Thu: What is a hero?

Week 2 August 30: The Mythic Hero

Tue: Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth


Joseph Campbell, “The Monomyth,” The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1-42.

Christopher Vogler, “Hero’s Journey” (Summary and Discussion of Campbell’s Monomyth)’s_journey.htm


Interview with Chris Volger:

Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer: The Power of Myth, Part 1

Thu: Otto Rank’s Freudian Analysis of Myth

Otto Rank, “The Myth of the Birth of the Hero” In Quest of the Hero, 3-8??

1st Presentation: On Otto Rank

Week 3 September 6: The Mythic Hero; A Myth of Origins

Tue: Interpreting the Hero


Robert A. Segal, “Introduction,” In Quest of the Hero, vii-xxxi. (Focus on the sections regarding Freud vs. Jung; Rank vs. Campbell)

2nd presentation: Segal’s article

Thu: A Myth of Origins: Hesiod’s Theogony (The Creation of the Universe, the Earth, the Sky, the Titans, the Olympian Gods and the Human Race, and How Prometheus stole Fire)


Background reading: “Theogony: the Birth of the Gods”:

Hesiod’s Theogony (the full text), 27-86.

Fool’s guide to the Theogony:

Week 4: September 13: Interpreting Theogony; The Prometheus Myth

Tue: Interpreting Theogony: Structural, Historical, Comparative, and Psychoanalytical Approaches


Richard Caldwell, “Introduction,” (the full text), “The Psychology of the Succession Myth” (87-104), from Hesiod’s Theogony

3rd Presentation: The Structural Approach to the text

4th Presentation: Historical and Comparative Philological Approaches

5th Presentation: The Psychoanalytical Approach

1st Written Assignment (approx. 1 page double-spaced, due in class):

Compare two elements of Caldwell’s approach(es) to the Theogony, eg. the structural, the historical, the psychoanalytical etc. Are they mutually exclusive? Which aspects of Caldwell’s analysis do you find most convincing?

Thu: Prometheus: One Hero, Many Myths


Prometheus section, Hesiod’s Theogony, (vv. 507-616ff)

“Prometheus and Pandora,” Works and Days (vv. 42-105. pp. 72ff.)

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I, v. 1-150

Aesop’s Fables (517): “Prometheus and Bacchus”

Background reading:

6th Presentation: Who was Prometheus? Who was Pandora? Comparing the Various Accounts

Screening: Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Trickster

Week 5: September 20: The Tragic Hero

Tue: Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound


Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (the full text)

Screening: Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (In ancient Greek with subtitles) (vs. 1-87)

Thu.: What is a tragic hero?


Defining tragedy and the tragic hero:

7th Presentation: What is a tragic hero?

Screening: Sections of a Lecture by Prof. J. Rufus Fears, on Prometheus Unbound (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

Week 6 September 27: The Epic Hero

Tue: Christian Cosmogony and Theodicy

Readings: Milton, Paradise Lost, Books 1-4

2ndst Written Assignment (approx. 1 page double-spaced, due in class): Describe some of the basic differences between the mythic and the tragic hero using the various accounts of Prometheus to illustrate your argument.

Thu: The Epic Hero


Gregory Nagy: “The Epic Hero”

The Satanic and Byronic Hero: Quotes from Romantic Contemporaries

Answerable Style:” The Genre of Paradise Lost

8th Presentation: What is an epic hero? What kinds of approaches (historical, structural etc.) does Nagy’s essay offer?

9th Presentation: Is Milton’s Satan an Epic Hero?

Take-home Midterm distributed in class

Week 7 October 4: The Romantic Hero

Tue: Romanticism


Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry,” Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, pp. 480-508

9th Presentation: Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry”

Take-home Midterm due in class

Thu: Prometheus as a Romantic Hero


Reading: Lord Byron, “Prometheus,” “Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte,” The Major Works, 264-266, 253-258

10th Presentation: Between Prometheus and Napoleon

Week 8 October 11: The Modern Prometheus

Tue: The Dialectic of Master and Slave: Napoleon and the Philosophy of History

Readings: G.W.F. Hegel, “Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage,” from the Phenomenology of Mind [or Spirit],

Background Information and Guide:

Alexandre Kojève, “In Place of an Introduction,” Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, 3-70.

Thu: Updating Prometheus


Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, Preface and Acts I-II, pp. 132- 180

Week 9 October 18: Between Prometheus and Satan

Tue: Prometheus as a Romantic Hero


Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, Acts III-IV, pp. 180-209

10th Presentation: Shelley’s Prometheus

Thu: What is a Gothic Novel?


Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Vol. 1

The Gothic:

11th Presentation: What is a Gothic Novel?

Week 10 October 25: The Gothic Hero

Tue: The Feminine and the Gothic: Gender and Feminist Criticism


Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Vol. 2

Critical articles by Ellen Moers, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Barbara Johnson, pp. 214-250.

3rdst Written Assignment (approx. 2 pages double-spaced, due in class): The Romantic Hero. What is new about the Romantic hero? How does he incorporate but also transform Milton’s Satan and Aeschylus’ Prometheus? How did contemporary events, such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, shape the features of the Romantic hero?

11th Presentation: Feminist Critiques of Frankenstein and the Gothic Novel

Thu: Dominating Nature, Dominating Territory


Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Vol. 3

Critical articles by Gayatri Chakroborty Spivak and Anne K. Mellor, pp. 262-270, 274-286

12th Presentation: Frankenstein in the light of Spivak and Mellor’s Articles

Week 11 November 1: The Byronic Hero and the Romance

Tue: The Persona of the Byronic Hero


Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, The Major Works, Canto I

Peter Thorslev, “The Byronic Hero and the Heroic Tradition,” The Byronic Hero

4th Written Assignment (approx. 2 pages double-spaced, due in class): Discuss one or more of the articles accompanying Frankenstein. What light does it throw on the text? What are its implications as a critical approach?

13th Presentation: The Byronic Hero in the light of Thorslev’s article

Thu: The Romance as Travelogue


Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, The Major Works, Canto II

Northrop Frye, “The Mythos of Summer: Romance,” The Anatomy of Criticism, 186-206

14th Presentation: What is a romance?

Week 12 November 8: Rewriting Romance; Romantic Geographies

Tue: Social Satire and Political Commentary


Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, The Major Works, Canto III

Northrop Frye, “The Mythos of Winter: Irony and Satire,” The Anatomy of Criticism, 186-206

14th Presentation: What does Byron satirize? How does satire transform the romance?

Thu: Italy and History


Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, The Major Works, Canto IV

4th Written Assignment (approx. 2 pages double-spaced, due in class): What new or distinct features does Childe Harold possess with respect to the other heroes you have encountered? In what ways does Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage rework the medieval romance as a genre?

Week 13 November 15: Transplanting the Romantic Hero

Tue: Russia and the Caucasus: the Seduction of Empire


Mikhail Lermontov,  “Preface” and “Bela” A Hero of our Time, 3-42

Thu: Novelistic Structure and the Manipulation of Time


Mikhail Lermontov, “Maxim Maximych,” “Pechorin’s Journal,” and “Taman” A Hero of our Time, 43-69

Boris Eikhenbaum, Lermontov. A Study in Literary-Historical Evaluation,

15th Presentation: Eikhenbaum’s account of the novel’s structure

Week 14 November 22: The Anti-Hero

Tue: Romantic Psychologism and the Society Tale


Mikhail Lermontov, “Princess Mary,” A Hero of our Time, (70-147)


Week 15: November 29: The Fate of the Romantic Hero

Tue: The Question of Fate and the Burden of Plot


Mikhail Lermontov, “The Fatalist” A Hero of our Time, (148-157)

5th Written Assignment (approx. 2 pages double-spaced, due in class): How does Lermontov adapt the Byronic hero to the Russian context? In what way does the novel reflect and structure the self-consciousness of the romantic hero?

Thu: Looking back at the Hero


Hans Georg Gadamer, “Prometheus and the Tragedy of Culture”