Epic comes the Greek word “epos,” meaning “word, story, poem.”
The epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.
The first epics were products of preliterate cultures and oral poetic traditions.
A study done in the early twentieth-century by Milman Parry and Albert Lord revealed that oral epics tend to be constructed in short episodes, each of equal status, interest, and importance.
Parry and Lord also believed that the most likely source for written text of the epics of Homer was a dictation from an oral performance.
Qualities of an Epic
- Begins in medias res.
- The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe.
- Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation).
- Begins with a statement of the theme.
- Includes the use of epithets.
- Contains long lists, called an epic catalogue.
- Features long and formal speeches.
- Shows divine intervention on human affairs.
- Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization.
- Often features the tragic hero's descent into the Underworld or hell.
The Trojan War
Peleus and Thetis had not invited Eris, the goddess of discord, to their marriage and the outraged goddess stormed into the wedding banquet and threw a golden apple onto the table. The apple belonged to, Eris said, whomever was the fairest.
Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite each reached for the apple. Zeus proclaimed that Paris, prince of Troy and thought to be the most beautiful man alive, would act as the judge.
Hermes went to Paris, and Paris agreed to act as the judge. Hera promised him power, Athena promised him wealth, and Aphrodite promised the most beautiful woman in the world.
Paris chose Aphrodite, and she promised him that Helen, wife of Menelaus, would be his wife. Paris then prepared to set off for Sparta to capture Helen. Twin prophets Cassandra and Helenus tried to persuade him against such action, as did his mother, Hecuba. But Paris would not listen and he set off for Sparta.
In Sparta, Menelaus, husband of Helen, treated Paris as a royal guest. However, when Menelaus left Sparta to go to a funeral, Paris abducted Helen (who perhaps went willingly) and also carried off much of Menelaus' wealth.
In Troy, Helen and Paris were married.
Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Helen's husband Menelaus, led an expedition of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris' insult.
After the deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the ruse of the Trojan Horse.
The Achaeans slaughtered the Trojans (except for some of the women and children whom they kept or sold as slaves) and desecrated the temples, thus earning the gods' wrath.
Few of the Achaeans returned safely to their homes and many founded colonies in distant shores. The Romans later traced their origin to Aeneas, one of the Trojans, who was said to have led the surviving Trojans to modern-day Italy.
The ancient Greeks thought that the Trojan War was a historical event that had taken place in the 13th or 12th century BC.
The Iliad (sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium) is an ancient Greek epic poem.
Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes to many of the Greek legends about the siege; the earlier events, such as the gathering of warriors for the siege, the cause of the war, and related concerns tend to appear near the beginning.
Then the epic narrative takes up events prophesied for the future, such as Achilles' looming death and the sack of Troy, prefigured and alluded to more and more vividly, so that when it reaches an end, the poem has told a more or less complete tale of the Trojan War.
The Iliad is paired with something of a sequel, the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer.
Along with the Odyssey, the Iliad is among the oldest extant works of Western literature, and its written version is usually dated to around the eighth century BC.
In the modern vulgate (accepted version), the Iliad contains is divided in 24 books, in total having 15,693 lines.
Themes in Iliad
Nostos (νόστος, "homecoming") occurs seven times in the poem. Thematically, the concept of homecoming is much explored in Ancient Greek literature, especially in the post-war homeward fortunes experienced by the Atreidae (Agamemnon and Menelaus), and Odysseus (see the Odyssey).
Kleos (κλέος, "glory, fame") is the concept of glory earned in heroic battle. For most of the Greek invaders of Troy, notably Odysseus, kleos is earned in a victorious nostos (homecoming), yet not for Achilles, he must choose one reward, either nostos or kleos.
Akin to kleos is timê (τιμή, "respect, honour"), the concept denoting the respectability an honourable man accrues with accomplishment (cultural, political, martial), per his station in life. In Book I, the Greek troubles begin with King Agamemnon’s dishonourable, unkingly behaviour—first, by threatening the priest Chryses, then, by aggravating them in disrespecting Achilles, by confiscating Briseis from him. The warrior’s consequent rancour against the dishonourable king ruins the Greek military cause.
The poem’s initial word, μῆνιν (mēnin, accusative of μῆνις, mēnis, "wrath, rage, fury"), establishes the Iliad's principal theme: The "Wrath of Achilles." His personal rage and wounded soldier’s vanity propel the story: the Greeks’ faltering in battle, the slayings of Patroclus and Hector, and the fall of Troy.
Fate (κήρ, kēr, "fated death") propels most of the events of the Iliad. Once set, gods and men abide it, neither truly able nor willing to contest it. How fate is set is unknown, but it is told by the Fates and seers such as Calchas. Men and their gods continually speak of heroic acceptance and cowardly avoidance of one’s slated fate.] Fate does not determine every action, incident, and occurrence, but it does determine the outcome of life.
Analysis of Death of Hector
Hector, the representative of hearth, home, and city-state, is the defender of the principles of individual self-control and of a constructive, positive way of life.
Achilles is the personification of primitive brutality, anti-social destructiveness, and undisciplined instinct.
Military values often overwhelm the importance of family.
Hector has been quite controlled over his attitude to his fate, his death at the hands of Achilles, facing it calmly and heroically.
Even the hero that was Hector could not face his fate without regrets and fear.
Zeus considers saving Hektor's life by "plucking the man from death." Athena counters that Zeus can do as he pleases, "but none of the deathless gods will ever praise you.“
It implies that Zeus can overcome fate, but only in a way that brings turmoil to heaven and earth.
Zeus' intervention in human affairs in this instance is not justifiable because fate has decreed otherwise
Athena's goal is to bring about what fate has decreed. She does not cause Hector's death; instead she ends his unseemly flight and makes him turn to face what must be.
A heroic warrior cannot run from his foe, even if that foe is the invulnerable and deadly Achilles.
The battle between Hector and Achilles is a fight where human civilization itself is at stake, and although the destructive forces triumph, Achilles (the embodiment of barbaric-uncivilized-behavior) is rehabilitated and rejuvenated in the final book of the epic. The institutions represented by Hector are reborn in a new form during the confrontation between Achilles and Hector's aged father, Priam.