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Epic Poetry

05 November 2023

What is Epic Poetry?


Epic poems are popular because of their magnificent nature. The extensive length of epic poetry alone is often impressive, while their heroic, legendary and mythological characters or events spark even further interest. Virgil’s Aeneid displays all of these qualities. By contrast Virgil's Georgics is an example of a didactic poem, even though it is written in the same metre used in epic poetry. There are examples of several different types of poetry in the D.A. Kidd Collection. Here are 10 ways to recognise an epic story:


    1. The poem is highly-stylised and traditional, with a range of different modes including much dialogue, singing, exaggeration, and vividly visual detail.
    2. There are several books (chapters) within each epic poem.
    3. It is poetry in Dactylic Hexameter verse.
    4. The poet remains objective by presenting all perspectives, and rarely comments on the narrative within the poem.
    5. The narrator begins by stating the main theme, invoking a muse or guiding spirit to inspire him in his great undertaking, and then asking the muse to answer a grand question. The narrative as a whole is supposed to answer this grand question.
    6. The main character is a figure of great national or even universal importance.
    7. The main character must through his virtue overcome all forms of adversity.
    8. The main character reflects a culture’s heroic ideal of citizenship.
    9. The setting of the poem is grand-scale, covering both land and sea. It can be worldwide, or even larger.
    10.  Supernatural beings such as gods and goddesses play an active part in the lives of humans.
    Epic Poetry

    A page from a book of collected writings published in 1547, featuring Phaenomena by Aratus of Soli, from the Kidd CollectionAcc# 214.13.9, James Logie Memorial Collection.

    Virgil drew inspiration for his Roman epic poetry from the past works of the Greek poet, Homer. In fact, Virgil admired Homer greatly, and honoured him by emulating several scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey in his own poem, the Aeneid.

    Fascinatingly, Virgil had ordered for the Aeneid to be burned before he died of a fever in 19BC, possibly because he had not finished editing it and so believed it was not ready for public consumption. Despite his final wishes, the Emperor Augustus ordered that it be published anyway. There is much debate even today as to what Virgil thought the imperfections of the Aeneid might have been.

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