When I think of epic stories and poems, I often think of swashbuckling heroes, like Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn, sailing through the air on another adventure that involves thwarting villains and exploring exotic lands. Of course, epic poetry goes much further than that in the mind of the poet, and the details of epic poetry often have a bit more depth.
Qualities of Epic Poetry
Epic poetry is typically narrative in execution, so it tells a fictional story (even though narratives can be nonfiction as well), and has fantastical elements and themes of mortality, humanity, and the godly (amongst others). Additionally, the poems often follow a hero or heroine who are bandying about and after some goal or objective that may seem unattainable to mere mortals, such as slaying large beasts, taming kingdoms, or finding a secret to life eternal.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic tale about, well, Gilgamesh, who was an errant Babylonian “god-king” who would grow to be a wise leader of his people through trials and tribulations. A lot of this poem is very Herculean and Biblical, in fact, and features some amazing moments of strength and bravery, including battles with monsters, bulls, and a search for the key to immortality. Of course, at the end of the day, one must learn to be humble, and so Gilgamesh sees the error of his ways and becomes a better ruler.
Other examples of epic poetry include:
- The Iliad and The Odyssey
So, that’s epic poetry for you. It is full of all sorts of odds and ends and feats and heroes…and sometimes strange and wonderfully inexplicable things, but that’s a lot of the fun of reading it, because it offers a strange window into the idealized past and how humans perceived heroism and faults in heroes, which creates truly compelling characters with varying motivations and lead characters that are narratively dynamic. If you are in for a long, engaging read, crack one open and go for a journey!