Course Guide Table of Contents

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Course Guide

Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC)

Extended Learning Institute (ELI)

Dr. Diane Thompson

The Course Guide explains what you can expect to do and learn in World Literature I (ENG 251).

This section of ENG 251 is offered by NVCC through the Extended Learning Institute (ELI). For information about ELI and how to register for the course, go to the ELI Policies and Procedures Screen.

The Course Guide Table of Contents at the left will guide you to the various parts of this long page; there are also a few links to other parts of the course below that. I suggest printing out the Course Guide, so you will have a paper copy for reference.



English 251 is the first semester of a year long World Literature Course. In this course, you will read literature from the Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, India, the Medieval Arab world,  Medieval China, Europe and Central America. I have tried to select readings that I believe you will enjoy and want to read again in the future. I like to think of these ancient, wonderful works of literature as time machines that let us travel far back into human history and learn about what it was like to live, think, feel, despair, love and hope a very long time ago.



Concepts You Should Learn from this Course:

Different times and places are indeed different, yet they can be fruitfully compared and contrasted by using connecting themes.
Reading literature from different times and places takes patience, intelligence and imagination.
It is possible, with effort, to really enjoy literature written long ago and far away.
Reading such literature with understanding is important because it helps us to understand how we are human, and how others, who are different, are equally human.

By the End of this Course You Should Be Able to:

Read a piece of literature from another time and place and know how to find background information to help you understand, explain, and enjoy it;
Write about two pieces of literature from different times and places, explaining how they are the same and how they are different;
Recognize some of the literary traditions that carry themes and ideas from one time and place to the next, creating an intellectual history of human civilization.



The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginnings to 1650, 2nd Edition, Package1.

There are a variety of Norton World Literature Anthologies, so be sure you get the right ISBN number: 978-0-39392453-4. This is a package of three separate books sold together in a single slipcover. The cover is mostly brown.

All general course materials, such as Study Guides and supplemental information will be available on the Internet. You may read them there or download and print them if you wish.

I have prepared videos which are very similar in content to the Study Guides for this course. The videos are broadcast by ELI; they are also available in the NVCC libraries and can even be rented through ELI. If you learn better by video than by print, you may want to use them instead of the study guides. I have indicated the videos on the 251 Home Page table of course materials.

There are also excellent videos from the Annenberg series, Invitation to World Literature that correspond to some of the assigned readings for this course. I have indicated these videos on the 251 Home Page table of course materials. I was a member of the Advisory Board for this project and I am delighted by the quality of the finished project. I think you will like it too. Check it out.

I have been able to locate free etexts for almost all of the readings in this course, and they are listed on the 251 Home Page in the table of course materials. This means that it is possible to work through this course without buying the paper textbook set. However, you should consider that the free online translations are quite a bit older (i.e. out of copyright) and often less pleasant/easy to read. Also, the paper textbook set includes excellent introductions to each section and to each text.

If you decide to work from the online versions, you will need to refer to the 251 Home Page table to locate each text and you will be responsible for being sure you do all of the required reading. If a link is dead or the reading is incomplete, you will be responsible for finding an alternative.



This section of English 251 is a distance course. We will not see one another, but we will be in contact:


you will post your writing to public Forums
your instructor will respond to your writing
you will read other students' writing
you will send and receive e-mail
you will call the instructor occasionally to keep in touch.

In short, you will not be isolated, although you will be doing your work apart from other students.

This is an Internet-based course, so you need to have access to the Internet, including a NOVA student email address. You also need to be reasonably familiar with how the Internet works. Internet access is available on each NOVA campus if you have trouble with your home computer; however I do not recommend taking this course unless you have regular access to a computer that is connected to the Internet.

The Discussion Board is a public place where we all can read one another's postings. Consequently, do not think of your work as "private," when you post it to the class forums. I encourage you to think of this openness as an advantage, expanding the potential audience for your writing.



For specific information about how an ELI course operates, such as how and where to take exams, how to contact ELI, how to purchase course materials, how to schedule yourself, etc., please go to the ELI Policies and Procedures Screen.


COURSE OVERVIEW (each unit should take about one month)

Unit 1--The Ancient Near East. You will begin the course in the ancient Near East, reading the ancient Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, a profound story about friendship, adventure, and the unsuccessful search for immortality. You will then read selections from the Hebrew Bible, including the story of the flood, which has remarkable similarities to the story of the flood in Gilgamesh. At the end of this Unit, you will take Exam 1, which will ask you to compare/contrast some character or theme from Gilgamesh with a character or theme from the Hebrew Bible.

Unit 2--Greece, Rome and India. This Unit offers you a choice: you may study all three of the reading areas, and do one activity for each, or choose two of the three, and do two activities for one, and one activity for the other. For example, you might do two activities for Homer, one for a Greek drama, and skip the Aeneid/ Bhagavad-Gita, or you might do one Greek Drama activity and two activities for Aeneid/ Bhagavad-Gita, and skip Homer. It's up to you. 

You will read Homer's Odyssey, the story of one Greek king's homecoming from the Trojan war. Greek myths and literature are at the core of much to follow, including the culture of classical Rome, and subsequent European civilization. You will then select one Greek drama to read and respond to. If you wish, you may locate a film of the Greek drama you have chosen, and compare it to the print text.

You will then read selections from Virgil's Aeneid, which retells Homeric stories of the Trojan War and its aftermath from a Roman point of view. For an interesting contrast, you will read brief excerpts from the Indian masterwork, The Bhagavad-Gita, which has very different ideas about good and evil, reality and divinity than those in Virgil's Aeneid.

Unit 3--The Crusades: Opposing Visions. You will explore two competing ideas about civilization, real estate, truth, and, of course, religion. First, you will read part of an Old French Epic, The Song of Roland. The Roland poet transforms an eighth century expedition by Charlemagne into Spain to help a Muslim ruler, into an epic twelfth century holy war against Islam. You will also read "The Sermon on the Mount" to see how far the Soldiers of Christ in Roland have come from the peaceful ideal of early Christianity.

To see a bit of the world of Islam from its own perspective, you will read a selection from The Arabian Nights, a collection of folk stories from India, Persia and the Arab countries, all within the wide reaches of the Islamic world. The stories in the Nights were gathered and revised from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, and they present a marvelous picture of the highly complex and richly civilized Muslim world at the time of the Crusades. You will also read some brief selections from the Koran to enrich your understanding of the Islamic world of the Nights. At the end of this Unit you will take Exam 2, which will ask you to compare/contrast a reading or set of readings from this Unit with material from Unit 1 or Unit 2.

Unit 4--Two Medieval Concerns: Love and the Afterworld.

You will learn about the European medieval concept of Courtly Love, read two brief tales of courtly love, "Lanval" and "Laustic," by Marie de France, and two stories by Boccaccio, one about love and the other about lust. For contrast, you will read the medieval Chinese "Story of Ying Ying," which presents love as a rather unpleasant game.

Then, you will read the definitive late medieval guide to Hell, Dante's Inferno. The scenes of hell are vivid, believable, and present a clear idea of divine justice--the punishment always fits the crime. People actually find this reassuring nowadays. And, for contrast, you will read excerpts from the Mayan epic, Popul Vuh, which offers very different concepts of the underworld and the role of divinity.

I have selected the western tradition readings because they are sources and/or models for so much of the culture, ways of thinking, and writing that followed in Europe and then in North America. I have paired several such readings with striking examples from non-western civilizations that present an alternative view of reality on a specific topic, such as courtly love or the nature of divinity.

You may suggest substitute readings that are relevant to the general substance of this course. Just let me know what you would like to substitute for what, and I'll let you know if it's all right with me (it often will be). You may also suggest substitute Activities, and if I like them, I may even add them to an Activity List and give you five points extra credit.



Task Possible Points Total Possible
Introduce yourself 50 50
10 Activities 50 each 500
Exam 1 100 100
Exam 2 150 150
Exam 3 200 200

You can earn up to 1000 points for the entire course. Final grades will be assigned according to the number of points you have earned. You need to pass at least two of the exams in order to pass the course. If and when you reach 900 points, you may request and receive a grade of "A," even if you do not complete the course work.

I will only accept one piece of work at a time. Wait until you receive my comments and grade before submitting the next. You must do the work in the sequence that it is assigned. For example, you may not do Activity 5 before Activity 4, or take Exam 2 before completing all the Activities in Units 1, 2, and 3.

A = 900 - 1000 points
B = 800 - 899 points
C = 700 - 799 points
D = 600 - 699 points
F = Below 600 points

You will keep track of your personal schedule of work due dates, work completed and grades received on the Student Grade Record Form. If you are in a great hurry, you may want to look at the Eight Week Option version of that form. Remember, if you start to do the course in eight weeks and it proves too much for you, just relax and revert to the fifteen week version; there is no penalty.

I will under NO CIRCUMSTANCES grade more than one piece of work in a single day, so you must plan accordingly.



Plagiarism is a serious breach of ethics and will not be tolerated in this course.  If I identify plagiarized work, I will not grade it, nor will I allow it to be redone. The rule is: if you didn't know it before you read (or heard or saw) it, you need to cite the source of the information (in parentheses), either directly after using the information, or no later than the end of the paragraph in which you refer to it. 

Plagiarism and the www

It is very easy to find and copy material on the www. However, it is also very easy for me to go to and type in a phrase from student work. In two recent cases I found a clear source for the student work within a couple of minutes of searching.

  • Research is fine, but you MUST cite the sources of all information you find no later than the end of the paragraph in which you use it.
  • If you use direct quotes of material, you MUST use “quotation” marks plus citation of source to indicate that you did not write the material.
  • If you put the material into your own words, you still MUST cite the source.
  • If you submit work that uses sources without citing them and if I find the sources, I will not grade your work and you may not redo it.
  • Teachers become very familiar with the styles of student writers, and when a student submits work that does not fit his/her general style, a bell goes off in the teacher’s head, prompting her to suspect plagiarism and look for sources.

All students in this course post their work on public forums. You are encouraged to read other students' work to get ideas about how to do the writing tasks. If you read an idea in another student paper that is so good you feel the need to discuss it, you may "quote it" and cite the student author as your source. Any other use of student work  is plagiarism.



If you have a documented disability that may affect your performance in this class, please email me at Diane Thompson, or call me to discuss your situation.




  • Your Last Withdrawal Date is based on your individual date of enrollment. You should have received this information from ELI shortly after enrolling in the course. If you did not receive it, contact ELI immediately at 703-323-3347 and request your Quick Start Syllabus for this course.

  • I require all work to be submitted at least three working days (e.g. Monday through Friday no later than 5:00 pm) before your deadline date, so that I have time to read and grade it.

  • If you have not successfully completed all of Units 1 and 2, including Exam 1 (work I have accepted and graded), by three working days before your Last Withdrawal Date, you will be dropped from the course with a grade of W.


  • Incomplete grades are not given simply because a student is behind on work, but rather, can be available when there are legitimate, verifiable, documentable, unavoidable reasons that have prevented a student from progressing appropriately.

  • In order to be eligible for a grade of Incomplete, which would allow you up to TWO more months to complete the course, you need to successfully complete ALL of Units 1, 2, and 3, including both exams, at least three working days before your current end date AND you must send me an email requesting the grade of Incomplete and explaining why you were unable to complete the course on time. You must be prepared to verify your explanation with the appropriate documents as needed.

  • An Incomplete does not cost anything and does not involve a grade penalty. However, if you do not complete the balance of the course work within the allowed two months, you will be graded out of the course at the end of your Incomplete, based on your earned points. 


  • NOTE: the actual dates for each deadline below will depend on your own enrollment date, which varies by semester and session and length of course. You need to consult the ELI Calendar to locate your own critical dates.

Critical Date Deadlines


Work (completed and graded) required to continue in course

Blackboard Log-in Deadline Approximately 20 Days after the start of the session Students who have not logged in to Blackboard by this date will be dropped with no refund.

Inactive Students Dropped

End of
Week 4
Students who have not completed all of the assignments in Unit 1 including Exam 1 by this date will be withdrawn without a tuition refund.

Last Withdrawal Date

End of Week 9

Units1 and 2 and Exam 1 completed and accepted at least three working days before the end date  or students will be dropped with a grade of W and no refund

Course End date

End of Week 16

All course work completed and graded at least three working days before the course end date




Incomplete option: up to two more months to complete the course

Starts on the course end date

All of Units 1,  2 and 3 including Exams 1 and 2 successfully completed and graded at least three working days before the course end date AND an email to me requesting the Incomplete and explaining why it is needed (supporting documentation must be available)

NOTE: If you submit work that is not, in my opinion, "college level," I will not grade it, so it will not count towards the required pieces of work you need to stay in the course after your W date. I may allow you to redo such work, but you will need time to do that, so do not wait until the last minute to post careless work in a hurry; it will be too late to do the necessary revisions to get the work accepted as college level.

I will under NO CIRCUMSTANCES grade more than one piece of work in a single day, so you must plan accordingly.



Since this is a college English course, all graded work must be of college level. This means that it:


responds appropriately to the assignment
has college-level content
is well developed
has a clear, readable style
is reasonably well-focused
is well-organized
uses appropriate language and tone
uses correct English mechanics.

If you submit work that does not meet these requirements for college level work, I will not correct or grade it. You will be allowed one chance to redo and resubmit it. The best strategy is to do your best work before submitting it for a grade.



There are a wide variety of suggested ACTIVITIES for each reading assignment. You will select one for each reading assignment, complete the Activity, and post it to the appropriate forum. Each Activity should be no less than 250 words (the equivalent of one typed, double-spaced page). It may be longer, if you need more space to express your ideas. If you can think of relevant reading selections and questions that are not listed, let me know what you'd like to do and I'll almost certainly ok it. You will receive five points extra credit if I decide to add it to the Activities list.

I will accept only one Activity at a time. You must wait for my response before posting the next Activity. If you post another Activity before I have responded to the previous posting, you will have to repost the second Activity after I have responded to the first one. Under NO Circumstances will I read more than one piece of work in a day, so please do not wait for the last minute--that is too late.



I maintain a web site dealing with stories and history of the Trojan War from the Bronze Age to the present. The sections on Homer, Greek Drama, Virgil and Courtly Love fit nicely into the content of English 251. Take a look at the Troy Web Site, and if it interests you, you may select options several times in the course to work with that material.



Since this is a distance course, you will be asked to take three proctored exams. These are necessary so that ELI can assure the accrediting boards that the course work is actually done by the student enrolled. You may take these exams at any NVCC Testing Center.

Each exam may only be done AFTER you have completed the preceding Unit Activities. For example, you must complete (and have my grades back) from Activities 1 and 2 before you may take Exam 1.

I will only accept one exam at a time. You must wait until you have received my grade and feedback before doing the next exam. This means that you cannot do two exams together at the end of the course, so plan ahead.

If it is not possible for you to get to an NVCC Testing Center, you may arrange for a proctor at another location. If you need a proctor, go to the ELI Policies and Procedures Screen. Select the link for Examination Proctors, from the Table of Contents, for information on how to arrange for a proctor.

You need to pass at least two exams with at least a D (more than 60%) in order to pass the course.

You may only take one exam at a time, and it must be in the required sequence of coursework. If you take an exam out of the required sequence, I will refuse to grade it. If there is still time in the course I may let you retake it after you have completed the required preceding Activities.

Click on Exam Passes (see left menu on Blackboard Forums page) to go to the passes for your three exams. Print them out and take the appropriate one to the Testing Center for each exam (e.g. pass 1 for exam 1, pass 2 for exam 2 and pass 3 for exam 3). You will also need a photo ID when you go to the Testing Center to take an exam.

Exam 1 will ask you to compare some interesting theme, events or characters from Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible. Exam 2 and Exam 3 will each ask you to write an essay based on work you have been doing during the course, comparing two or more readings from different times and/or places. All exams for this course are open book. You may also bring your preparation materials (web site printouts, notes, or an outline, but not actual drafts) to the exams. Any materials you bring with you (except books and printouts of texts) will be collected by the Testing Center and returned to me along with your exam. You will not receive either the exam or the materials back, so please do not bring materials you want to keep unless you have other copies of them.

After I read your exam, I will send you a note with your grade and my comments. The exams are un-timed, so you can write without feeling pressured. You should not find these exams difficult because you will have prepared for each one by doing the course work for the unit. Exam 1 is worth up to 100 points; Exam 2 is worth up to 150 points, and Exam 3 is worth up to 200 points.

NOTE: This entire COURSE GUIDE is subject to revision according to the instructor's judgment of the needs of the class.



I will send you your grades by email each time I read and respond to a piece of your work. You MUST use your College email address, because I cannot send your grades to any other email address. Here is the link to instructions for getting your College email address: Email Instructions



To start working on the course, go to Unit 1.


(c) Diane Thompson:11/16/1998; updated: 02/22/2011