Epic Poetry: the Foundation of Literature

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Epic poetry stands alone as the most influential writing of all time (“Short History of English Literature”). No other authors created such exemplary masterpieces which provide cultural perspectives. Society worldwide has been molded significantly through the ages by the epic poets like Homer and Dante, inspiring stories of heroes, gods, and epic wars which have instilled strong morals throughout mankind. Without the sonorous writings, many successors to the epic authors would not have produced their famous works. These epic classics are the roots of the tree of literature. It is important to recognize and appreciate these world-renowned writers who have contributed so much to their country’s culture. In epic poetry, poets like Ovid influenced Shakespeare, so new forms of literature were created, Dante heightened religious believes in the Inferno influencing entire nations, children learned about morality from the Iliad and the Odyssey, and culture was preserved through the writings of the Ramayana (“Lecture on the Odyssey”).

The fact that The Epic of Gilgamesh was written in 2700 B.C. and it is still read today demonstrates that it has withstood the test of time (“Epic of Gilgamesh”). As the oldest epic, it has lasted for 4,500 years and continues to be studied (Carnahan). The tale remains alive due to oral tradition and an ancient king. Because the king had a passion for books, he assembled a top notch library with commendable tales and stories, including thirty five copies of The Epic of Gilgamesh (Applebee). Originating in ancient Mesopotamia, the famous epic can now be read in every single major language (“History of Art: Masterpieces of World Literature- Epic of Gilgamesh”). The Epic of Gilgamesh has become the basis for many successful works in theatre, books, art, musical adaptations, and even video games (“Read”). The Assyrian Aid Society of America has been playing Gilgamesh, the opera, since 2009 (“Assyrian Aid Society”). In 1990, Turn Left at Gilgamesh, a play written by Rory Winston, went off-broadway at the Intar Theater (“Plays”). Even the Final Fantasy video games use the character Gilgamesh as a fierce king with a sidekick named Enkidu (“11:11:11 Elder Scrolls Skyrim”). Written down on twelve stone tablets of cuneiform, the epic tells the story of an ancient king named Gilgamesh (Carnahan). Gilgamesh, the protagonist, displays heroic qualities that most epic heroes possess (“History of Art: Masterpieces of World Literature- Epic of Gilgamesh”). When Gilgamesh’s best friend Enkidu dies, he goes on a quest for eternal life (Kreis). The Epic of Gilgamesh teaches a lesson about how immortality remains unattainable, even for the king of Uruk (“History of Art: Masterpieces of World Literature- Epic of Gilgamesh”). Gilgamesh learns that even though immortality is unattainable, he can always be remembered through his unforgettable reign in generations to come (“Chapter 2: The Epic of Gilgamesh”). When reading all different types of epics, it is easy to see the different values and qualities that the Sumerians found desirable. Especially when Gilgamesh exhibits wisdom, courage, and strength, which shows the admirable Sumerian traits (Carnahan). The Epic of Gilgamesh sets the stage for many epics to come with the same themes. These themes can be seen in the stories of Achilles, Odysseus, and even Beowulf (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). Because Gilgamesh is one third human and two thirds god, he possesses valued qualities like many more epic heroes to come (“History of Art: Masterpieces of World Literature-Epic of Gilgamesh").

Similar to how Gilgamesh inspired future writers, the epic Metamorphoses inspired the likes of Shakespeare and Chaucer (Silver). Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream is based on the Babylonian tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, a story retold in Metamorphoses (Stanton 165). Ovid, the author of this epic, played a major role in bringing ancient Greek and Roman stories back into the spotlight...
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