The Development of the Epic

Topics: Epic poetry, Homer, Aeneid Pages: 7 (2311 words) Published: April 16, 2013




TASK: Trace the historical development of the Epic to date indicating the major turning points in its evolution.


REGN. NO.: PG/MA/063/2010


An epic poem is by common consent a narrative of some length and deals with events which have certain grandeur and importance and come from a life of action such as war(Bowra,1945}.It is further defined by the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary as a long poem about the actions of great men and women about a nations history. Philip Sidney {1598} referred to the epic as the best and most accomplished kind of poetry.

Most critics agree that an epic must be a story, and the story must be told well and greatly and whether in the story itself or in the telling of it, the significance must be implied. The prime material of the epic must be real and not invented. But when the story is safely concerned with some reality, the epic poet can graft on this as much invention as he pleases. In addition, the story must be founded deep in the experience of men. Apart from that, historical material can be used to create great epics. An epic as a necessity has an epic hero around whom the epic centers. The hero must be named and his deeds be assigned to him as he lives in his reputation.

In this paper, an attempt will be made to trace the historical development of the epic to date indicating the major turning points in its evolution. The two main types of the epic, the oral and the literary epic will be discussed with emphasis on how the epic has changed from the time of Homer and Virgil, who were the greatest exemplars, to the present times.

The Historical Development of the Epic

Homer, who probably existed in the 10th or 9th century is said to be the father of the epic and regarded with reverence and used, particularly as the author of the Iliad, as the model of all subsequent attempts. The oldest and in many ways the worlds greatest epic poems and the best of Greek literature are the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. In these poems are depicted the heroic time in which gods and heroes and the supernatural abound. Homer was looking at an age known only in tradition and he was free to invent as he would. Draper(1945} suggests that there is no doubt that the stories had a great base of history and that Troy once did yield to hosts across the Aegean. He adds that the whole of this war is placed by Homer on a noble plane that ensures everything is glorified. The warriors in his epic poems were godlike, and even at times the sons of gods.

The epics of Homer have the following elements; fabulous adventure, superhuman deeds, majestic or elevated language, they were either sang or recited with an accompaniment of music, most were transmitted orally and the craftsmanship employ the full range of literary device. Dryden said Homer was inventive and copious. William Temple lauded him as the vastest, the sublimest, and the most wonderful genius’, and in Pope’s view, ‘Homer was the greater genius, Virgil the better artist’. Because Homer composed for recitation, his composition is in some ways freer and looser than Virgil’s.

The Homeric epics fall in the category of primary poetry. This is the type of poetry that has no single author and is the product of oral tradition written down after centuries of oral tradition. The authorship is not important but possible. The primary epic was originally...
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