Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit





Unit rationale, description and aim

The dominance of fiction in the modern world is rooted in the narrative transformations that occurred during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This unit will explore the theory and practice of fiction from Antiquity to the early modern period, and the ways in which some of the great story-matters have been refashioned through the interplay between various genres – epic and romance, history, fable, picaresque, and novel.

Minor (or less familiar) texts will be brought into collision with major ones to illustrate the persistent and perennial appeal of certain narrative structures and mythemes, and the ways in which these works often defy strict categorization according to the genres identified by Aristotle (Epic, Tragedy, Comedy, Satire, Lyric, and Pastoral). The overarching concern of the unit could be described as the movement from ancient epic to medieval romance to the immediate precursors of the modern European novel (e.g. Sidney and Cervantes), but the unit provides opportunities to explore multiple sub-arcs that supplement, disrupt, or even contradict that simple (or simplistic) teleological account by presenting hybrid modes (such as ‘Epic Romance’) or demonstrating the unexpected overlaps between, say, explicitly religious texts (e.g. Acts of the Apostles, Apocrypha / pseudepigrapha, Augustine’s Confessions, hagiographical writing) and pagan or secular examples of narrative fiction.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 -Articulate an advanced, integrated, research-based understanding of ancient, medieval, and early modern examples of fictional narrative, together with the conceptual, theoretical, historical, and socio-political implications of the uses to which such narratives have been put and the transformations that they have undergone. (GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Explain the literary, social, historical, philosophical, political, aesthetic, religious, and/or ethical implications of fictional narratives drawn from Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. (GA1, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Critically evaluate and synthesise knowledge, concepts, and theories connected to fictional narrative from diverse sources and communicate complex ideas and findings with sophistication and confidence to a range of audiences in diverse contexts. (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO4 - Research, develop, and apply disciplinary theories and practices to a range of imaginative texts drawn from Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Texts will be drawn, in any given year, from a wide range of material, but will include examples of Classical, medieval, and early modern literature. Many will be read in full, and some in selection. Topics, authors, and texts for the twelve 3-hour seminars may include (or resemble) a selection drawn from the following indicative list:

  • The Birth of Epic: Homer’s Iliad (c. 725 BC) and the Heroic. Cross-reference: Mesopotamian narratives such as Gilgamesh.
  • The Art of Lying: Theories (and Practice) of Fiction in Antiquity. Main text: Homer, Odyssey (c. 700 BC). Critiques: Plato, Republic (II, III, & X); Lucian, A True History (2nd cent. AD). The Odyssey as ultimate progenitor of Romance, Picaresque, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi.
  • An Epic for Empire: Vergil’s Aeneid (30–19 BC).
  • Transforming Epic: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. AD 8).
  • First Fictions (I): Roman Novels. Texts: Petronius’ Satyricon (c. AD 65). Menippean Satire and Milesian Tales. Parodying the Odyssey. Functions of Obscenity in the Ancient World.
  • First Fictions (II): Roman Novels. Texts: Apuleius, The Golden Ass (c. AD 180). Magic and Fiction in the Ancient World. Platonic Philosophy and the Novel. The relationship between the erotic and the soteriological in (pseudo-)autobiographical narrative (cross-references to Pauline narratives; Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions; The Shepherd Hermas; Augustine, Confessions).
  • First Fictions (III): Greek Romances. Text: Heliodorus of Emesa, Aethiopica (3rd or 4th century AD). The elevation of prose fiction to epic status. Race and Erasures: A ‘White Ethiopian’ as Heroine.
  • ‘Mouldy Tales’: Anon., Apollonius of Tyre. Medieval and Renaissance adaptations: Gesta Romanorum, ch. CLIII; Emaré; Gower, Confessio amantis, Book VIII; Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Tale; Shakespeare, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Riddling and Incest: The perennial appeal of mythemes.
  • Medieval Epic Romance (I): Chansons de Geste (‘Songs of Heroic Deeds’): e.g. The Song of Roland (11th–12th cent.).
  • Medieval Epic Romance (II): Chrétien de Troyes (fl. c. 1160–1191) and Arthurian Romance (e.g. Erec and Enide, Lancelot, Perceval, and/or Yvain).
  • Imaging the Marvellous (I): Marie de France (fl. AD 1160 to 1215) and the Breton lai (e.g. Yonec, and Guigemar).
  • Imaging the Marvellous (II): Main Text: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Cross-reference: Sir Orfeo (580 lines); Sir Launfal (1044 lines); Sir Degarré.
  • Fin amour (a.k.a. ‘Courtly Love’): The Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris (c. 1230) and Jean de Meun (c. 1275).
  • ‘Divine Comedy’: Dante’s Divina Commedia (c. 1320) in relation to Classical Epic, devotional literature, and medieval narrative modes.
  • ‘Human Comedy’: Boccaccio’s Decameron (c. 1350) in relation to medieval romance, French fabliaux, and Apuleius’ Milesian tales
  • Romancing Troy: Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde. Background: Boccaccio, Il filostrato. Genre-B(l)ending: Epic, Romance, Tragedy, and Comedy.
  • Writing Women: Main text: Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women (esp. Dido, Lucretia, Medea, Cleopatra). Background: Vergil’s Aeneid, Books I–IV; Boccaccio, De claris mulieribus. Cross-reference: Saints’ Lives: e,g. Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend (c. 1259–1266).
  •  Arthurian Romance on the Cusp of the English Renaissance: Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D'Arthur (c. 1470)
  •  ‘Open Manslaughter and Bold Bawdry’: Humanist Responses to Medieval Romance. Main text: Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590). Cross-reference: Ariosto, Orlando furioso; Tasso, Gerusalemme liberata.
  •  Protestant Romance / Humanist Epic: Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia.  
  •  Epic / Romance / Novel: Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605 and 1615). Chivalric Romance as satirical target and narrative catalyst. Fiction and Madness. The Market-place of Fiction. Supplementary texts: Novelas ejemplares (1613; a collection of short stories); Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617: Cervantes’ attempt to ‘compete with Heliodorus’).

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is designed and delivered in a small-group attendance mode which facilitates the use of the Socratic method. The Socratic method promotes active and receptive dialogue in which students are encouraged to think for themselves rather than passively receive information, doctrines, or positions.  Rather than ratify ideologies, received ideas, and disciplinary norms in an unquestioning manner, the Socratic method potentially opens every ideological, disciplinary, and critical assumption to question.   

In addition to the close reading of a range of texts, narratives, essays, and art objects, students will participate in writing activities, the interpretation and evaluation of texts, and critical and argumentative debates. 

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, it is particularly important that students engage in and with the full range of texts, topics, learning activities, and assessments associated with this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support learning such as reading, reflection, and discussion.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This 600-level unit is designed to include assessment tasks that develop and test content knowledge and higher-order research and analytic skills. Since this is a post-graduate course, it is assumed that students will already possess basic competence in the close reading of literary texts. That competence will be enhanced by self-directed study and by Socratic-style seminar learning and teaching over the course of the unit. All students are expected to contribute, on a weekly basis, to seminar discussion; on some occasions, these contributions may take the form of short individual presentations which provide opportunities for students (and potential teachers / academics) to develop their presentation skills and gain feedback and critique from their peers and instructors. We regard such opportunities as being supportive and formative, rather than a formal part of the assessment process.

The chronological scope of the syllabus (approximately 2,300 years from Homer to Cervantes) and the emphasis on considering both the blending of genres and the reuse of narrative structures and strategies by different authors, at different times, and often in different languages, make it appropriate to divide the assessment into two weighty chunks: a pair of research essays demonstrating chronological range and/or generic diversity, and requiring the exercise of powers of comparison, discrimination, and synthesis. Students will be encouraged to consult with the Lecturer-in-Charge (and/or other academic staff contributing to the delivery of the unit) and to submit a short research proposal for approval before they complete their essay.

The research tasks develop skills in relation to proposing an argument, locating and evaluating sources, developing a sustained evidence-based argument, and active engagement with key issues and debates.

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high-quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with the University’s assessment requirements. These have been designed to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for graduate studies in the subject area.

Minimum Achievement Standards

The assessment tasks and their weighting for this unit are designed to demonstrate achievement of each learning outcome. In order to pass this unit, students are required to submit all assessment tasks, meet the learning outcomes of the unit and achieve a minimum overall passing grade of 50%.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment Task 1: Research task

a) Research proposal: Hurdle Task

b) 2,500-word Research essay 50%

This task requires students to be critical and comparative and to produce analyses which cross strict generic boundaries and/or chronological divisions. 


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9

Assessment Task 2: Research task

a)   Research proposal: Hurdle Task

b)   2,500-word Research essay 50%

This task requires students to be critical and comparative and to produce analyses which cross strict generic boundaries and/or chronological divisions. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references


Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. by Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981)

Burrow, Colin, Epic Romance: Homer to Milton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993)

Dudley, Edward J., The Endless Text: Don Quixote and the Hermeneutics of Romance (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997)

Everson, J. E. (Jane E.), The Italian Romance Epic in the Age of Humanism: The Matter of Italy and the World of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Gill, Christopher, and T. P. Wiseman, eds, Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993)

Heiserman, Arthur Ray, The Novel before the Novel: Essays and Discussions about the Beginnings of Prose Fiction in the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977)

Hofmann, Heinz, ed., Latin Fiction: The Latin Novel in Context (London: Routledge, 1999)

Lukács, Georg, The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature, trans. by Anna Bostock (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 1974)

McKeon, Michael, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600–1740 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987)

Moody, Margaret Anne, The True Story of the Novel (London: Harper Collins, 1997)

Quint, David, Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993)

Reardon, B. P., The Form of Greek Romance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991)

Saunders, Corinne J., ed., A Companion to Romance (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004)

Walsh, P. G., The Roman Novel: The ‘Satyricon’ of Petronius and the ‘Metamorphoses’ of Apuleius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970)

Winkler, John J., Auctor & Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass (London: University of California Press, 1985)

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