Epic Poetry Some Features and Examples
An Introduction To Epic
An epic also called heroic poem is a verse narrative usually long which deals with a serious subject. It is told in a formal and elevated style. It is centred on heroic or quasi-divine figures on whose action depends the fate of a tribe, a nation or the entire human race as in the instance of John Milton’s The Paradise Lost. Epics maybe traditional or literary.Traditional epics are called folk epics. The traditional epics were the written version of oral poems about a tribal or national hero during a warlike age. Among these are the Iliad and
Odessey that are attributed to Homer, the Greek poet. Literary epics were composed in deliberate imitation of the traditional epics. Virgil’s Latin poem the Aeneid is of this kind.
This epic later served as a model for Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Some features of epics
The hero of an epic is a figure of great national importance. In the Iliad, the hero is the Greek warrior Achilles, who is the son of the sea nymph Thetis, and Virgil’s Aeneas is the son of the goddesses Aphrodite.
The setting of the poem is ample in scale and may be worldwide or even larger.
Odysseus wanders over the Mediterranean basin and in Book XI he descends into the underworlds as does Virgil’s Aeneas.
The action involves superhuman deeds in battle such as Achilles’ feats in the Trojan War, or a long, ordous and dangerous journey such as the wanderings of Odysseus on his way back to his homeland in the face of opposition by some of the gods.
In the great actions, the gods and other supernatural beings take an interest or an active part. The Olympian gods in Homer is an instance.
An epic poem is a ceremonial performance, and is narrated in a ceremonial style which is deliberately distanced from the ordinary speech and proportioned to the grandeur and formality of the heroic subject.
The Epic Conventions
The narrator starts by stating his argument for epic theme, invokes a muse or guiding spirit to inspire him in his great undertaking.
The narrative begins in media-res or in the middle of the story. There are catalogs of some of the main characters introduced in a formal detail The term epic is often applied to narratives that differ from this model in many respects but manifest the epic spirit and grandeur in the scale, scope and profound human significance of their subject. In this broad sense Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Edmund Spencer’s “The Fairie Queene” are often called epics.