Epic Works

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Epic WorksEpics by definition are long narrative poems, that are grand in both themeand style (Webster 417). They usually involve actions of great glory and aretypically centered around historical or legendary events of universalsignificance. Most epics deal with the deeds of a single individual, however, it is not uncommon to have more than one main character. Epics embody severalmain features including: supernatural forces, sometimes the deity of the time, that shape the action; battles or other forms of physical combat; and a formalstatement of the theme of the epic. Everyday details of life are commonplaceand intricately woven into the background of each story in the same palatialstyle as the rest of the poem. Epic poems are not merely entertaining stories of legendary or historicalheroes; they summarize and express the nature or ideals of an entire nation at asignificant or crucial point in its history. I have chosen for comparison theOdyssey, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost.

The Odyssey, attributed to Homer is about Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, who sailed with his army to take part in war against Troy. After ten years ofwar, victory is declared and the armies of Odysseus have sailed for home. Asthe Odyssey begins, an additional 10 years have passed since the fall of Troyand Odysseus still has not returned to his home. The noblemen have converged onhis palace seeking the hand of his lovely wife, Penelope. However, Peneloperefuses their advances choosing to remain faithful to Odysseus. During the ten years of his absence since the fall of Troy, Odysseus hastraveled the world undertaking many unbelievable adventures and trials set uponhim by the god Poseidon

Throughout his travels he along with his men sailed tomany strange lands. These great adventures included tricking Polyphemus aCyclops by being 'nobody' (Norton 320), sailing to the end of the world anddescending into Hell (Norton 340), successfully battling Scylla, a six-headedmonster that devoured passing seamen (Norton 361) and finally, passing safelyaround a terrible whirlpool (Norton 366 - 367).During his descent into Hell, Odysseus meets a sear who foretells that hiswanderings would not end until peace is made with Poseidon. This sear alsotells him that he will return home and re-establish himself as king. Finally as the Odyssey concludes, Odysseus does return home to a house andcountry in turmoil. His wife is besieged by suitors, his son is now a grown manand his country is facing certain civil war. In the final acts, order isrestored with the assistance of the goddess Athene. In Dante's epic, The Divine Comedy, he tells of a journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven.

This epic is divided into three sections. In each ofthe sections he meets with mythological, historical, and contemporaryindividuals. Each individual encountered during the journey represents areligious or political symbol of fault or virtue. In addition, specificpunishments and rewards are associated with each fault and virtue. Dante useseach punishment and reward to illustrate the larger meaning of human actions inthe universal plan. Paradise Lost is considered by some to be one of the greatest poems inworld literature and most certainly John Milton's masterpiece. In its 12 cantosMilton tells the story of the fall of Adam and the loss of Paradise. Satan hasbeen expelled from heaven with his fallen angels.

In Hell, Satan formulates aplan to find the new creations God has made - man and woman. Meanwhile, Godtells his Son that Satan will be successful in corrupting man. But because, manwas tricked by Satan, man will be given grace if someone in heaven will die forman's sin. To fulfill his plan, Satan tempts Eve in a dream. The next morning Evesuggests that she and Adam work separately that day. Gradually she is persuadedby Satan, who has taken the form of a serpent, to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Realizing her folly, Eve shares the fruit with Adam, who also eats it.

This isconsidered the fall of man. In Heaven God tells of the final victory of the Son over Sin and Death. This epic is told in a context of extensive drama using profound speculations. Milton's main goal was to 'justify the ways of God to men.' (Norton 2179)All three works are long narrative poems that are grand both in theme andstyle fulfilling the basic definition of an epic. Of the three epics only theOdyssey involved actions of great glory by the central hero. In the DivineComedy and Paradise Lost, the main characters are not fighting monsters oroutwitting Cyclops. Dante walks through Hell, and views the fate of man, Adamand Eve are manipulated by God and Satan but are not gods nor do they have god-like qualities. The influence of the supernatural is an outside force in theDivine Comedy and Paradise Lost.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus possesses many god-like qualities himself. The central theme of each epic is somewhat different. In the Odyssey, thecentral theme seems to be Odysseus against the world. He stands the testthrough opposition by the gods, other men, and the forces of nature. In theDivine Comedy, Dante, a normal man, takes a walk through the many levels of hell, expressing the faith of medieval Christianity. Paradise Lost, by Milton issimply a representation of the ideals of mediaeval Christian rational. Though each work is classified as an epic, they share only a few of thebasic traits of an epic poem. However, more than anything each provides insightinto the thoughts and beliefs of people in our history.

These epic works takeus on an imaginary voyage; one through the amazing journeys of a single man, onethrough an imaginary trip through hell in which the political and philosophicalthought of the time can be experienced, and one through an account of areligious thought for that day. All of these epics serve to remind us that nomatter how far mankind has come, we still have a long way to go in our journeybe it spiritual or earthly. Works Cited'Epic.' Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1983 ed. Homer. 'The Odyssey.' Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed.

MaynardMack. 6th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1992.Milton, John. 'Paradise Lost.' Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack.

6th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1992.

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