Epic Characteristics, Conventions, and Epic Heroes

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).

epic chacracteristics
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

Epic Conventions
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 in
preparation for battle, sacrifices) (the suit-up scene in movies such as Commando is a
modern example)
5. Epic simile (a long simile where the image becomes an object of art in its own right as
well as serving to clarify the subject).
6. Frequent use of epithets, frequently repeated formulaic descriptive phrases (“Aeneas the
true”; “rosy-fingered Dawn”; “tall-masted ship”)
7. the use of epic machinery, the system of gods and goddesses or supernatural figures who
intervene in the action of the story
8. Grand battles and love affairs
9. Stock episodes such as the Journey to the Underworld

Epic hero
is a leader of extraordinary strength, courage, daring, and wit who pursues a goal or
embarks 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 a
people or nation thinks a person should possess
has human failings that make him seem like a real, relatable person (often temptation or
hubris—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

Setting includes vast expanse
patrynomic appositives
Long, Formal Speeched
Actions includes battles and love affairs
Superhuman strength
Histories and descriptions of significant items
Episodes provide explanations for some circumstances
Deeds presented without favortism
Fate, gods, and/or lesser divinities play key roles in action outcomes
Larger than Life
Various adventures form an organic whole

Stock episodes
Epic Simile
Meidas res
Invocation of the muse
Epic catalogs
Statement of the theme
Grand battles and love affairs
Epic machinery

Represents ideal social, moral, and/or spiritual chacracteristics people or nation believe someone should possess
Aided by gods or other supernatural entities
noble, royal, or aristocratic birth
travels vast distances
human failings

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