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The PhD Oral Examination

in the

Epic Field

Like all such faculty-assembled guide lists, this set of epic titles is neither comprehensive nor uncontroversial.  It is nothing more than a system of veins from which, with due additions and demurrers, the ore of a good exam list may be mined.  Such a good list will attend to historical coverage and to the variant parameters of genre, medium, and function that make this area intellectually challenging.  Even though many epics do come in "books," in this as in other examination areas a viable list should incorporate forty titles.  The student should also append half a dozen titles in secondary scholarship on the epic.



  1. Gilgamesh
  2. Genesis/Exodus
  3. Mahabharata
  4. Homer Iliad; Odyssey
  5. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica
  6. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
  7. Virgil, Aeneid
  8. Ovid, Metamorphoses
  9. Lucan, Pharsalia
  10. Statius, Thebaid
  11. Prudentius, Psychomachia


  1. Beowulf
  2. Song of Roland
  3. Ysengrimus
  4. Lawmon's Brut
  5. Niebelungenlied
  6. Prose Eddas
  7. Dante, Divine Comedy
  8. Chaucer, Knight's Tale
  9. Lydgate, Siege of Thebes


  1. Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered
  2. Ariosto, Orlando Furioso
  3. Camoens, Lusiads
  4. Spenser, Faerie Queen
  5. Shakespeare, Henriad
  6. Fletcher, The Purple Island
  7. Drayton, Polyolbion
  8. Cervantes, Don Quixote
  9. Milton , Paradise Lost

Neo-Classical / 18 th Century

  1. Dryden, MacFlecknoe, Absalom & Achitophel
  2. Blackmore, King Arthur
  3. Pope, The Rape of the Lock; The Dunciad
  4. Voltaire, Henriade
  5. Fielding, Tom Jones
  6. Glover, Leonidas
  7. Willkie, Epigoniad
  8. Macpherson (Ossian), Fingal
  9. Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  10. Williams, Peru
  11. Klopstock, Messiah


19 th Century

  1. Blake, Vala; Milton ; Jerusalem
  2. Southey, Thalaba the Destroyer; Madoc
  3. Wordsworth, The Prelude; The Excursion
  4. Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel; Marmion
  5. Barlow, The Columbiad
  6. Moore, Lalla Rookh
  7. Shelley, Laon & Cythna
  8. Keats, Hyperion; The Fall of Hyperion
  9. Byron, Don Juan
  10. Pollok, The Course of Time
  11. Carlyle, The French Revolution
  12. Bailey, Festus
  13. Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome ; History of England
  14. Longfellow, Hiawatha
  15. Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  16. Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
  17. Tennyson, Idylls of the King
  18. Browning, The Ring and the Book
  19. Eliot, Middlemarch; Daniel Deronda
  20. Morris, The Earthly Paradise ; Sigurd the Volsung
  21. Swinburne, Tristram of Lyonesse
  22. Melville, Moby-Dick; Clarel
  23. Goethe, Faust
  24. Pushkin, Eugene Onegin
  25. Manzoni, The Betrothed
  26. Witkiewicz Pan Tadeusz
  27. Hugo, La Légende des Siècles
  28. Tolstoy, War and Peace

20 th Century

  1. Hardy, The Dynasts
  2. Conrad, Nostromo
  3. Joyce, Ulysses
  4. Eliot, The Waste Land
  5. Pound, The Cantos
  6. H. D., Trilogy
  7. Dos Passos , U. S. A.
  8. Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel
  9. Olson, Maximus Poems
  10. Zukovsky, A
  11. Merrill, The Changing Light at Sandover
  12. Walcott, Omeros