Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)

Module MELA40830: From Roland to Orlando: The European Epic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Department: Modern Language and Cultures

MELA40830: From Roland to Orlando: The European Epic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08 Module Cap
Tied to R9K607


  • None.


  • Research Methods and Resources module; Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To consolidate students' knowledge of the epic genre and of its development during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in western Europe.
  • To build on the Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies module by encouraging an interdisciplinary approach that seeks to identify the common features of texts produced over several centuries and in diverse locations.
  • To foster critical reflection on the relationship between the epic genre and changing patterns in society.
  • To complement other optional modules in the MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies offered in MLAC and in other departments.
  • To offer the possibility of further critical exploration of the topic area in the MA dissertation module.


  • The module will consist of a critical survey of the development of the epic genre in France, Germany, Italy and Spain (dependant on staff availability) from its inception to the end of the Renaissance, with special reference to the relationship between modes of fictional representation and social and political change, the permeability generic features, form and rhetoric, cultural alterity and constructions of identity. Key texts and topics to be studied will include (subject to staff availabiliyt) La Chanson de Roland and the French chanson de geste, the Nibelungenlied and its medieval reception, the Poema del mio Cid, Dante's Divine Comedy and works by Tasso (Gerusalemme liberata) and Aristo (Orlando furioso). The vernacular traditions will, in addition, be placed in the context of medieval Latin writing. Rather than dealing with each national tradition in isolation, seminars will be organised chronologically in order to illustrate the cross-cultural development of the epic. Regular plenary seminar will bring together staff from different language departments in order to permit interdisciplinary discussion.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An in-depth knowledge of the epic genre in western Europe during the period studied with particular reference to its relationship with social and political change.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to trace the development of common themes, techniques and images across national traditions and to account for their transmission.
  • An ability to write cogently and persuasively on a specialised comparative topic within the subject area of the module, drawing on the work of previous scholars as necessary.
Key Skills:
  • Enhanced presentation skills using a variety of media (written work, seminar papers, etc.).

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • In seminars students have the oppertunity to study the genesis and growth of the epic genre in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and to study representative texts, with particular emphasis being given to the relationship between modes of fictional representation and social and political change. Study of individual national traditions with subject specialists will be supplemented by plenary seminars at which different traditions will be compared and the links between them explored. A 5,000-word essay on a comparative topic will draw on and deepen this interdisciplinary perspective. Two 1-hour tutorials in the Epiphany Term will enable students to select and research a suitable topic in collaboration with their chosen supervisor(s). Seminar presentations by students will enable further enhancement of oral prsentation skills.
  • While a working knowledge of French, German, Italian or Spanish would be helpful for students, it is recognised that the interdisciplinary nature of the module makes study of texts in translation inevitable. It is hoped that students will be able to draw on a range of linguistic knowledge in collaborative working to permit greater access to the original language of the texts studied.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 In weeks 4 and 6 of Epiphany Term 1 hour 2
Seminars 10 Fortnightly, in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 2 hours 20
Preparation and Reading 278
Total 30

Summative Assessment

Component: Essa Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

At least one seminar presentation per term; a draft bibliography on the chosen essay topic for the second tutorial in the Epiphany Term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University