Intro to Epic Poetry

Epic poetry is a singular genre that is seldom used in the modern popular poetry canon. These pieces are narrative poems, usually quite long, that tell the story of an extraordinary person and a great battle or struggle that they endured. These poems feature fantastic components like monsters, magic, gods, and superhuman protagonists, though they frequently purport to be true stories about a founding figure in a given culture or group.

Perhaps the most well-known example of epic poetry is Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the stories of the Trojan War and the long journey home of a Greek general, respectively. The Odyssey is a particularly good example; Odysseus, its main character, is an archetypical hero of an epic poem. He possesses superhuman virtue, bravery, cunning, duty, and piety. He is meant to embody many of the best values that Greeks saw in their culture. This is a common trait among epic heroes. One of the most interesting parts of reading epic poetry, for me, is the information that readers can glean about the culture that is indirectly profiled through the story. In using this genre, I will likely be focusing heavily on this unique and nuanced relationship with the truth; epic poems are generally not true stories and contain outright falsehoods and made-up scenarios, but they are meant to reflect truths about a given culture or people—or humanity as a whole.

In the story, Odysseus faces a number of challenges that test him and his crew in different ways, forcing him to make sacrifices and fight for survival on his way back to his wife and children. Long journeys and dangerous battles are characteristic elements of epic poetry. They serve not only to provide dramatic and entertaining reading but to reveal the protagonists’ human traits and provide a link to the audience. Readers can look at epic poems and see elements of their own lives and struggles through the more unrealistic elements of the plots. This is the goal I am aiming for in writing epic poetry.

2 thoughts to “Intro to Epic Poetry”

  1. I’m very excited to see what comes from this experiment, especially since, as you mentioned, the genre of epic poem is mostly associated with ancient times. I’m also intrigued by the relationship between the tropes of epic poems and cultural ideals. It made me think of the fact that Mulan was originally an epic poem (before it became disney-fied, of course) and then wonder if the characteristic of epic poems change across cultures? I would be curious to see if/how you plan to incorporate modern cultural ideals in your piece.

  2. I think epic poetry is a very cool genre to work with. I love how you say that you view epic poetry as a way for readers to see both elements of their own lives and struggles through the plot. I agree in that I think this genre is a great way to showcase ones personality and emotion while simultaneously allowing the reader to connect with you. You said that these types of poems usually contain fantastic components such as monsters, magic, gods and so on. Have you thought about which of these components you want to incorporate in your experiment with this genre? I am looking forward to seeing what you do!

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