Epic Poetry

Epic Poetry

And the epic hero

 

Epic poetry is probably one of the most ancient genres in existence if not the single most ancient genre, but nobody really composes epics any more. It would be tough to write an epic poem in the modern world without a sense of irony (which would almost certainly ruin the epic) because we've become very skeptical toward heroes. This in itself is kind of odd, because we also expect a lot more of our heroes than our ancient ancestors did. They only expected their heroes to be fantastically competent and fantastically brave. We expect ours to also be perfectly moral, which is beyond their reach. If we find out one of our heroes has a moral failing, we rip him to pieces for it.

If you read any of the ancient epics, you find out that men like Hercules, Achilles, Cuchullain or Gilgamesh are not always portrayed as being all that morally admirable in the conventional sense. Some scholars have even interpreted the whole concept of the hero as being that of a person so much larger than life that he can temporarily break all the rules and get away with it for the greater good of the tribe. The hero always dies tragically in the end, of course- because in the end his violation of the taboos of his tribe must be punished.

 

The hero is not a moral exemplar, but something much more complicated. Maybe if we explore this idea a little more deeply, there could be room for a modern epic.