The good thing about epic poetry for undergraduates is it tends to be full of action. It's about adventure, which will grab the attention of students. It has a lot of the same appeal that popular movies do.

Jason McCloskey

A worthy opponent makes victory all the sweeter. Thus, it is no surprise that storytellers from fishermen to poets have long exaggerated the merits of their adversaries.

Jason McCloskey, an assistant professor of Spanish, studies the epic poetry of 16th and 17th century Spain and her exploits in the Americas. One recurring theme he finds is the use of classical myth to aggrandize Spanish endeavors.

For example, Armas Antárticas by Juan de Miramontes is the story of the English pirate John Oxenham's raids on the Spanish colony of Panama in 1576. The poem tells of a community of escaped African slaves who allied themselves with the English against the Spanish. One slave explains that his nation descended from Apollo and Andromeda, a mythical princess of Ethiopia. This unlikely genealogical history gives credence to the slaves as worthy foes, according to McCloskey's interpretation.

"By portraying the escaped slaves as having really prestigious mythological ancestors, when the Spanish defeat them, it makes them look even more heroic," he said.

Students taking McCloskey's course on Hispanic epic poetry can look forward to swashbuckling tales to reward them for working through the challenging archaic language.

"The good thing about epic poetry for undergraduates is it tends to be full of action. It's about adventure, which will grab the attention of students," McCloskey said. "It has a lot of the same appeal that popular movies do."

Posted Sept. 22, 2008

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