The Epic

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Information about The Epic

Published on February 12, 2008

Author: Urban


The Epic:  The Epic Photo from Philip W. Wise Homepage A Definition::  A Definition: An epic is a long poem about a hero containing the following elements: “in media res,” an invocation to the muse, battles, romance, supernatural intervention, journeys, lists, a descent to the underworld, and epic similes. (The following slides will break down the definition one phrase at a time for closer study.) Pictures from web page “A long poem”:  “A long poem” An epic is a long poem, often containing several books. Because it is a poem, it sometimes rhymes in heroic couplets (aa, bb, cc, dd and so on), and it often contains alliteration (repeated consonant sounds), as in the following lines: “Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum.” (Beowulf, line 4) “As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames” (Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 62). Neither Beowulf nor Paradise Lost contain rhyme. “about a hero”:  “about a hero” An epic is a story about a hero, so it includes the characteristics of the heroic code: Bravery – our hero leads his men in battle and is not afraid to take on the supernatural and battle to the death Strength – the hero has become the leader because he has demonstrated his prowess in battle Loyalty – he surrounds himself with a band of retainers for whom he is prepared to die and who are obligated to fight for their lord to the death Generosity – he provides food, shelter, and safety, and he rewards his followers with the spoils of battle Protection – his protects his followers by fighting to the death for them if necessary Philip W. Wise Homepage “in media res”:  “in media res” This Latin phrase means “in the middle.” An epic often begins in the middle of the story and then flashes back so that the reader may discover what events brought about the current situation. In the Star Wars saga, for example, the first movie (really episode 4) introduces Luke Skywalker as a young man who must fight to save his world. The viewer doesn’t know much about Luke’s past, but we learn more about him as the middle trilogy unfolds. Then the writers/producers take the viewers back in time through Episode I: The Phantom Menace to discover Luke’s history through his father Darth Vader’s childhood. We meet up again with Darth, as a young man, in Episode II. Evidently Episode III, if it is ever released, will connect Darth’s past with Luke’s present. “an invocation to the muse”:  “an invocation to the muse” An invocation is a prayer, asking for someone or something to be present and to provide inspiration. Just as modern church services begin with a prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to be present and to inspire the speakers, writers of epics also asked for guidance in telling their tales. The muses were the Greek goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences and inspired those who excelled at these pursuits. They were the daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne (memory). The Greeks established nine muses in mythology. Calliope, the "Fair Voiced" and the eldest Muse, is the muse of epic poetry and is seen holding a writing tablet in hand, sometimes seen with a roll of paper or a book, and crowned in gold. Simon Vouet French, 1590 - 1649 detail of Calliope from The Muses Urania and Calliope, c. 1634, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection The Circle of the Muses webpage “battles”:  “battles” Because an epic is about the life of a hero, battles are logical inclusions into the story line. Returning to the Star Wars saga, our hero, Luke, and his associates fight many battles in their struggle against the Empire. Some battles are personal, fought with light sabers, some are communal, with one space ship fighting against another, and some are global, with entire armies pitted against one another. Pictures from web page “romance”:  “romance” Most stories end with the hero getting the girl, and epics are no different. In the Star Wars saga, Luke is initially attracted to Princess Leia; then he discovers that she is his sister, and the attraction builds between Leia, the heroine, and Han Solo, Luke’s compadre. Picture from Philip W. Wise Homepage “supernatural intervention”:  “supernatural intervention” Most epics deal with some element of the supernatural. The Greek epics included gods and goddesses and their interaction with humans. Beowulf features monsters which are demonic, and Paradise Lost deals with God, Satan, demons, and angels. In Star Wars, in addition to the host of other-worldly characters, Yoda provides the supernatural help that Luke needs to defeat the Dark Side. Pictures from web page “journeys”:  “journeys” Most epics include at least one journey. Homer’s Odyssey is one long journey for the hero, Odysseus. Beowulf journeys over the whale-road to help an aging king who provided help for his ancestors. In Paradise Lost, Satan journeys across the great abyss to the new world that God has created to wreak havoc on man. In Star Wars, Luke and Hans travel across the galaxy in search of people and equipment. Pictures from web page “lists”:  “lists” Greek epics cataloged warriors in long lists. In Beowulf, the poet gives lineages first of Hrothgar, then Grendel, then Beowulf. In Paradise Lost, Milton lists the demons under Satan’s authority. “a descent to the underworld”:  “a descent to the underworld” In Greek epics, mortals were often sent to the underworld or had to descend to the underworld to rescue someone. Beowulf descends into Grendel’s lair to kill Grendel’s mother, and in Paradise Lost, Satan and his band of fallen angels are thrown into the pit of hell. In Star Wars, Luke enters the heart of the Empire to battle Darth Vader. “epic similes”:  “epic similes” Similes are figures of speech that compare two unlike things using “like” or “as.” An epic simile is an extended comparison in which the thing compared is described as an object in its own right, beyond the point of likeness with the main subject. An example from Paradise Lost occurs in Book 1, lines 634-637 when Milton compares Satan to a ship when he says, “then he soars up to the fiery concave tow’ring high as when far off at sea a fleet descried hangs on the clouds by equinoctial winds.” Another example is from Book 1, lines 62 and 63, when he describes Hell by saying “As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames / No Light, but rather, darkness visible.” British Epics:  British Epics Epics studied in British Literature I include: Beowulf Paradise Lost An epic studied in British Literature II is: Don Juan, by Lord Byron

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