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Cowboy Classics

The Roots of the American Western in the Epic Tradition

Kirsten Day

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Compares the ancient epic and the American Western as parallel cultural narratives

Cowboy Classics looks at the remarkably intimate connection between Westerns and Greek and Roman epics, each of which focuses on a mythic-historical period from the past where our societal notions of what constitutes heroism, masculinity and honour were first forged.

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1. Howard Hawks’s Red River

2. Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon

3. George Stevens’s Shane

4. John Ford’s The Searchers

5. John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


About the Author

Kirsten Day is Associate Professor of Classics at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois where she lives with her husband Sean and sons Harper and Owen. A native of Arkansas, she received her B.A. from Rice University, completed her graduate work at the University of Arkansas, and studied at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Her research interests include women in antiquity and classics in popular culture.


Day covers a number of aspects exploring both genres and goes in detail concerning important aspects of the heroic characters such as (sparse) language used, the complex system of ideal manhood (and gender roles in general) and the insistence to stand one’s ground to fight for an ideal or justice. Her solid chapter on High Noon in particular makes this very clear. Recommend reading for any fan of Westerns, classic epic or scholar of American Studies.
- Alexander Ebert,

Cowboy Classics is a straight-talking study in cultural reception. Day's analyses of Golden Age western films in light of Homer and Virgil are nuanced and deeply persuasive. Her work has much to teach us about heroism, gender, and the shaping of cultural identity, in both the present and the past.

- Geoff Bakewell, L. Palmer Brown Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities, Rhodes College

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