St. Olaf News


Cherewatuk to deliver spring Mellby Lecture on grief in epic poetry

CherewatukKaren450x300At this year’s spring Mellby Lecture, St. Olaf College Professor of English Karen Cherewatuk will discuss depictions of grief in the classical epic.

The March 14 lecture, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in Viking Theater, is free and open to the public. It will be streamed and archived online.

In her lecture, titled “The Tears of Things: Epic Grief,” Cherewatuk will examine scenes from various epic poems that represent grief, drawing from famous epics such as Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as contemporary Caribbean epics such as Derek Walcott’s Omeros.

Cherewatuk will then compare these literary portrayals of grief with contemporary psychological theories. She is particularly interested in the resilience theory of grief, which is currently one of the dominant theories in the field. The resilience theory differs from traditional theories of grief, such as the stage theory or the Freudian theory, because it claims that people “grieve, and they cope, and they thrive again,” explains Cherewatuk.

Surprisingly, traces of contemporary theories such as this can be uncovered in classical epic poetry. The epic hero Aeneas, for example, “is the perfect example of the resilience theory,” according to Cherewatuk.

Cherewatuk hopes that this topic will resonate with the St. Olaf community. “What I want them to take away is that if they don’t know these poems, they should read them, and if they haven’t read them in a long time, they should reread them,” she says.

“In a world where things are fast, it is worth returning to classical texts because they will help us process our own experiences,” says Cherewatuk. “Centering yourself in a work that has lasted for centuries connects you to universal human experience.”

Cherewatuk is an expert in the intersection of medieval culture, history, and literature. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the State University of New York at Albany and her master’s degree and doctorate at Cornell University before coming to St. Olaf in 1986, where she teaches Old and Middle English literature and Arthurian literature. She has also team-taught in two cycles of the Great Conversation program. Her book Marriage, Adultery, and Inheritance in Malory’s Morte Darthur was published by Boydell & Brewer in December of 2006.

The Mellby Lectures
The annual Mellby Lectures are named in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established in 1983 to give professors the opportunity to share their research with the public. Mellby, known as “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college’s honor system.