Beowulf as Epic Essay

828 Words Feb 20th, 2013 4 Pages
What makes an epic? Is Beowulf an epic?

What is an epic poem, and how does it differ from other kinds of poetry or storytelling?
How have epic poems traditionally been transmitted from generation to generation?
How do tellers remember these long and complicated stories?

According to Robert Harris’s Glossary of Literary Terms, he defines an epic as the following:
Epic. An extended narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction, for example). It may be written in hexameter verse, especially dactylic hexameter, and it may have twelve books or twenty four books. Characteristics of the classical epic include these:

The main character or
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Frequent use of epithets ("Aeneas the true"; "rosy-fingered Dawn"; "tallmasted ship")
Use of patronymics (calling son by father's name): "Anchises' son"
Long, formal speeches by important characters
Journey to the underworld
Use of the number three (attempts are made three times, etc.)
Previous episodes in the story are later recounted


Homer, Iliad
Homer, Odyssey
Virgil, Aeneid
Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered
Milton, Paradise Lost

Handout: Elements of an Epic
While reading Beowulf, complete the chart of elements.
Discussion Questions and/or possible essay topics:
1. What stories and movies fit this description / pattern? Hint: Troy – Brad Pitt; Luke/Leia … what other trilogies have been made popular?
2. Use the Elements of an Epic (chart handout) and map the elements from a contemporary movie/book that you think is an epic.
3. In the examples you came up with, what is the hero's relationship with his homeland (whether that place is ancient Greece or the imaginary Middle Earth)?
4. Why would traveling bards localize elements of the stories they told as they traveled from one city or town to the next?
5. Does changing the time, place, or details such as the style of dress in the "updated" story affect the main elements of the story, or the story's message?
6. Why do story tellers (including movie directors) change the story to bring it closer in time and space to its audience?
7. Define "oral tradition" and "literary

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