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Indiana University Bloomington

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Sarah Van der LaanSarah Van der Laan

Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature


Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies and English, Yale University, 2008
M.A. in Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary College, University of London, 2002
M.A. in Intellectual and Cultural History, Queen Mary College, University of London, 2002
B.A. in Renaissance Studies, Yale University, 2000

(812) 855-0737

Ballantine Hall 919

spvander at

I write and teach about the culture of the European Renaissance. My work centers on a genre—the epic tradition—and a concept: literary explorations of the value of human experience. Starting from these central concerns, my teaching ranges broadly across the interdisciplinary study of the interactions between literature, music, art, and architecture, and of the interactions of those cultural products with the material and social contexts in which they took shape. My first book, The Choice of Odysseus, explores the creative reception of the Odyssey in Renaissance Europe and situates the rewritings of Homer’s epic by major European poets and composers—Petrarch, Poliziano, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser, Monteverdi, Milton—in the context of the cultural history of the Odyssey. A second book project explores the dynamics of the epic tradition as it crosses and re-crosses confessional lines in sixteenth-century Europe, adding French and neo-Latin epic poets (Ronsard, d’Aubigné, Vida) to the cast of characters from my first book. Both these projects arise from a set of core concerns: how does literature seek to offer “tools for living,” in Kenneth Burke’s phrase, ethical reflections on and solutions for the difficulties of ordinary human experience? How can literature be understood as thought experiment, a testing ground for the psychological effects of proposed solutions to religious, ethical, or personal dilemmas?

A full list of projects percolating on the back burner would overwhelm the department’s server but would include articles on Circean transformations in the masque tradition; gender reversals in rewritings of the Odyssey; the roles of madrigal and opera in Renaissance literary traditions; the interplay of epic and mock-epic; and the development of early modern concepts of tyrannicide in theoretical and imaginative literature.

Research Highlights

The Choice of Odysseus: Homeric Allusion and Ethics in Renaissance Epic and Opera (book manuscript in progress)
“Tasso’s Homeric Counterfactuals,” MLN 127:1 (2012).
“Milton’s Odyssean Ethics: Homeric Allusions and Arminian Thought in Paradise Lost,” Milton Studies 49 (2009).

Recent Courses