Getting Close: Friendship, Intimacy, & Love in Ancient Literature

Lecture Series Description: We are always learning how to achieve intimacy, how to get close to others. Early works of imaginative literature can be vital guides on this journey—often surprising, often startingly insightful—even when they’re from cultures very removed from our own in space and time. In this lecture series we will explore questions of friendship, intimacy, and love in literature from 2100 BC (The Epic of Gilgamesh) to 1580 AD (Montaigne’s “On Friendship”) and discuss how they have influenced visual art, theatre, film, and daily life in our own time.

Lecture Series Information: Wednesdays, 1:00-2:45 p.m., starting September 22, 2021, O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium, University of St. Thomas St. Paul Campus and simulcast online via Zoom.

Lecture Series Educator: Amy Muse is Professor and former Chair of the English Department at the University of St. Thomas. She is a specialist in dramatic literature, the author of The Drama and Theatre of Sarah Ruhl, and writes about theatre, intimacy, and travel. Since 2001 she has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in drama and mental health, theatre and social change, Shakespeare, and The Classical Tradition, and study abroad courses in Rome, Turkey, and Greece. A lover of ancient and early modern literature and of the Mediterranean world, if Amy Muse went back to school, she’d become a Classicist.

Fee for the series: $90.00 per person

To register on-line with a credit card on our secure page, click on this link:

To print out a form to complete and then mail in with a check or cash payment, click on this link: ‌Fall 2021 Paper Registration Form

Link to campus map: St. Paul Campus Map (82020)

Detailed Lecture Series Syllabus:

September 22

The Epic of Gilgamesh

How has the world’s oldest work of literature (c. 2100 BC) shaped our ideas about friendship, desire, and love? How does a work from Mesopotamia figure into what we call “the classical tradition”? What is “the classical tradition” and why has it been so controversial lately?

September 29

The Odyssey and Sappho’s lyrics

The Greeks have many words for love. We’ll explore some of these—including love between parent and child, husband and wife, and god and mortal—in Homer’s epic The Odyssey and Sappho’s lyric poems, and will listen to the music of these texts.


October 6


Ovid’s Metamorphoses has a long legacy in visual art and drama (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pygmalion, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses on the Guthrie stage). What is its power, and why is it such a fraught text to teach now?


October 13

No Session

October 20


Kalidasa’s The Recognition of Śakuntalā is a classic of Sanskrit drama that was beloved by early Western travelers to India and translated and adapted many times since the 18th century. We’ll look at the influence of Śakuntalā on romance and at Indian dance as a classical tradition.

October 27

The Lais of Marie de France

The lais—courtly love poems—of 12th-century France may strike us as strangely familiar in their depictions of love as a struggle. Yet how do we understand faithfulness in stories where love and marriage are separate from one another?

November 3

Montaigne’s “On Friendship”

In this final session we look back at ancient ideas of friendship as the greatest love, which Montaigne expresses in his essay “On Friendship,” and its legacy in Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s 2012 film Frances Ha.