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The Epic and the Epic Hero

The Epic and the Epic Hero

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The Epic and the Epic Hero

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  1. The Epic and the Epic Hero Pre-Beowulf Notes

  2. You know the story… • People are living in fear as an evil force threatens to destroy the land. Then a hero appears. Brave, strong, and good, the hero defeats the evil force and saves the land and its people. • Sound familiar? Try to think of some examples…

  3. Some background… • Earliest epics date back to a time when most were illiterate • Usually recited by poets with musical accompaniment • Thrilled audiences with monsters, perilous journeys, and fierce battles – the movies of their day • Examples: • Earliest – Gilgamesh (Sumerians) • The Iliad and the Odyssey (Greek) • The Song of El Cid (Spanish) • The Song of Roland (French) • Beowulf (Anglo-Saxons)

  4. Epic Form • Established by the ancient Greek poet Homer • Features of the epic form in Western literature include: • Poetic lines that have a regular meter and formal, elevated, or even lofty language • Main characters who have heroic or superhuman qualities • Gods or godlike beings who intervene in the events • Action on a huge scale, often involving the fates of entire peoples • Stories that begin in medias res (“in the middle of things”) or at a critical point in the action

  5. Epithets and Kennings • Epithets – a word or brief phrase often used to characterize a particular person, place, or thing • The goddess Athena is “gray-eyed” and the sea is “wine-dark.” • Kennings – a descriptive figure of speech that takes the place of a common noun, especially in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry • In Beowulf, for example, the sea is described as the “whale road.”

  6. The Epic Hero • Epic hero is a man, as women take subordinate roles in traditional epics • Possesses high social status whose fate affects the destiny of his people • Plots involve supernatural events, long periods of time, distant journeys, and life-and-death struggles between good and evil

  7. The Epic Hero Continued… • Skill as a warrior, nobility of character, and quick wits enable the hero to defeat his enemies • Rarely modest – boasting is typical • Represents the ideals and values of his people