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Epic Poetry

Epic Poetry

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Published by terise

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Published by: terise on Sep 08, 2010
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04/21/2011

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Introduction
Some of the most well known, and most important, works of literature in the world are examplesof epic poetry. These heroic adventure tales have often had surprising durability over time, suchas Homer's story of love and heroism, The
 Iliad 
, which continues its life in the modern film
Troy
.Epic poems are more than simply a lengthy story told in poetic form, and their ability to remainaccessible, relevant, and remembered over time owes a significant debt to their roots in an oraltradition and to their cyclical pattern of events.This lesson will introduce students to the epic poem form and to its roots in oral tradition.Students will learn about the
epic hero cycle
and will learn how to recognize this pattern of events and elements- even in surprisingly contemporary places. Students will also be introducedto the patterns embedded in these stories that have helped generations of storytellers rememberthese immense poems.
Learning Objectives
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
Define epic poetry and be able to identify and describe the
epic hero cycle
.
Identify elements of epic poetry, including the
epic hero cycle
, in stories they knowalready.
Describe the way that narrative structures such as the
epic hero cycle
help bards in theremembering and telling of these immense and complicated works.
Guiding Questions:
What is an epic poem, and how does it differ from other kinds of poetry or storytelling?
How have epic poems traditionally been transmitted from generation to generation?
How do tellers remember these long and complicated stories?
A Story of Epic Proportions: What makes aPoem an Epic?
 
A. What are the elements of an epic poem? READ THE DESCRIPTION BELOW
Epic.
An extended narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroicepisodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction, for example). It may be writtenin hexameter verse, especially dactylic hexameter, and it may have twelve books or twentyfour books. Characteristics of the classical epic include these:The main character or protagonist is heroically larger than life, often the source andsubject of legend or a national heroThe deeds of the hero are presented without favoritism, revealing his failings as wellas his virtuesThe action, often in battle, reveals the more-than-human strength of the heroes asthey engage in acts of heroism and courageThe setting covers several nations, the whole world, or even the universeThe episodes, even though they may be fictional, provide an explanation for some of the circumstances or events in the history of a nation or peopleThe gods and lesser divinities play an active role in the outcome of actionsAll of the various adventures form an organic whole, where each event relates insome way to the central themeTypical in epics is a set of conventions (or epic machinery). Among them are these:Poem begins with a statement of the theme ("Arms and the man I sing")Invocation to the muse or other deity ("Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles")Story begins
in medias res
(in the middle of things)Catalogs (of participants on each side, ships, sacrifices)Histories and descriptions of significant items (who made a sword or shield, how itwas decorated, who owned it from generation to generation)Epic simile (a long simile where the image becomes an object of art in its own rightas well as serving to clarify the subject).Frequent use of epithets ("Aeneas the true"; "rosy-fingered Dawn"; "tall-mastedship")Use of patronymics (calling son by father's name): "Anchises' son"Long, formal speeches by important charactersJourney to the underworldUse of the number three (attempts are made three times, etc.)Previous episodes in the story are later recountedExamples:• Homer,
Iliad 
• Homer,
Odyssey 
• Virgil,
 Aeneid 
• Tasso,
 Jerusalem Delivered 
• Milton,
Paradise Lost 
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON RHETORICAL TERMS, SEE THIS SITE:http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric6.htm#Epithet
A Story of Epic Proportions: What makes aPoem an Epic?
 
B. Read the opening paragraphs in each of the following:
The Iliad 
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0217&redirect=true
The Epic of Gilgamesh
http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/GILG.HTM
 Beowulf 
http://www.bartleby.com/49/1/ 
C. Identify elements such as the opening invocation in the opening lines of these poems or theconnection of the hero to his homeland, which is the basis for many epic heroes as nationalfigures.
 Epic poetry has its roots in oral, rather than literate tradition. These stories wereoriginally passed on by bards, or professional poets who made their living by singing folk talesand epic poems to audiences. While the details of the poem often shifted from one telling to thenext, the most important elements of the story always remained the same.
Choose a fable, fairy tale, or other story you know. Identify the most important characters,objects and actions in the story. For example, a list of elements for Cinderella would probablyinclude Cinderella, the wicked step mother and her two daughters, the prince, the fairygodmother, the glass slippers, the pumpkin coach, her banishment on the night of the ball, herrunning from the ball at midnight, losing her slipper along the way, and the moment when herfoot fits the glass slipper.Do this with another story.
A Story of Epic Proportions: What makes aPoem an Epic?

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