a long narrative poem that recounts the actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes of a hero in a high, formal writing style with a serious, somber tone; an epic also reflects the ideals and values of the culture, nation, or society that produced it.
Classical epic poetry of the Greeks and Romans
(“classical” means Greek and Roman—The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid).
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Main character or protagonist is heroically larger than life, often the source and subject of legend or a national hero Deeds of the hero are presented without favoritism, revealing his human failings as well as his virtues The action, often in battle, reveals the superhuman strength (physical, mental, moral) of the heroes as they engage in acts of heroism and courage The setting includes a vast expanse of several nations, the whole world, or even the universe Action includes grand battles and love affairs The episodes, even though they may be fictional, provide an explanation for some of the actual circumstances or events in the history of a nation or people Fate, gods, and/or lesser divinities or supernatural creatures play an active role in the outcome of actions (the classical system of gods and goddesses are called “epic machinery” because they drive much of the action from “behind the scenes,” as in a theatrical production) Long, formal speeches by important characters (you will NOT see casual language) Histories and descriptions of significant items (who made a sword or shield, how it was decorated, who owned it from generation to generation) Use of patronymic appositives (calling son by father’s name): “Anchises’ son” or “Son of Ecgtheow,” for example All of the various adventures form an organic whole, where each event relates in some way to the central theme
Poem begins with a statement of the theme (“Of arms and the man I sing”)2. Invocation of the muse or other deity (“Sing, O Muse!, of the wrath of Achilles”)3. Story begins in medias res (in the middle of things)4. Epic Catalogs (extended, detailed lists of participants on each side, ships, weapons inpreparation for battle, sacrifices) (the suit-up scene in movies such as Commando is amodern example)5.
Epic simile (a long simile where the image becomes an object of art in its own right aswell as serving to clarify the subject).6. Frequent use of epithets, frequently repeated formulaic descriptive phrases (“Aeneas thetrue”; “rosy-fingered Dawn”; “tall-masted ship”)7. the use of epic machinery, the system of gods and goddesses or supernatural figures whointervene in the action of the story8. Grand battles and love affairs9.
Stock episodes such as the Journey to the Underworld
is a leader of extraordinary strength, courage, daring, and wit who pursues a goal orembarks on a quest in the face of many dangers and setbacks.
Epic Hero characteristics
represents the ideal physical, social, moral, and/or spiritual characteristics and values apeople or nation thinks a person should possess has human failings that make him seem like a real, relatable person (often temptation orhubris—excessive pride—is the failing) travels vast distances in pursuit of a goal or on a quest usually aided by gods or other supernatural entities usually of noble, royal, or aristocratic birth
(EPIC CHARACTERISTICS)Setting includes vast expansepatrynomic appositivesLong, Formal SpeechedActions includes battles and love affairsSuperhuman strengthHistories and descriptions of significant itemsEpisodes provide explanations for some circumstancesDeeds presented without favortismFate, gods, and/or lesser divinities play key roles in action outcomesLarger than LifeVarious adventures form an organic whole
(EPIC CONVENTIONS)Stock episodesEpic SimileMeidas resInvocation of the museEpic catalogsStatement of the themeGrand battles and love affairsEpic machineryEpithets
(EPIC HERO)Represents ideal social, moral, and/or spiritual chacracteristics people or nation believe someone should possessAided by gods or other supernatural entitiesnoble, royal, or aristocratic birthtravels vast distanceshuman failings