Epic / Epic Hero Notes
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Epic / Epic Hero Notes
Epic Definition An epic is a long narrative poem that relates the great deeds of a larger-thanlife hero who embodies the values of a particular society. -Sometimes called a heroic poem -Beowulf, the Iliad, and the Odyssey are all epics
Epics often… Concern eternal human problems such as the conflict between GOOD and EVIL Written or told on a grand scale and often in ceremonial style
2 Types of Epics 1. Folk Epic- oral compositions passed on from storyteller to storyteller and has changed over time. Ex. -Beowulf, the Iliad, and the Odyssey
2. Literary Epic- written compositions that are unchanged over time. Ex. Aeneid and Paradise Lost
Beowulf In comparison to the standard of Homeric epics (15,000 lines) … Beowulf is relatively short (3,200 lines) It was probably composed (first written down) between 700-750 in Old English by a monk in Scandinavia It is thought a monk composed it due to the Christian elements in the epic
• There are 5 main epic characteristics
The hero is a great leader who is identified strongly with a particular people or society.
#2 The setting is broad and often includes supernatural realms, especially the land of the dead.
#3 The hero does great deeds in battle or undertakes an extraordinary journey or quest.
gods or other supernatural or fantastic beings take part in the action.
story is told in heightened language
Some other Epic characteristics called… EPIC CONVENTIONS- Shared characteristics of epics that bards/scops drew upon to recall the stories they were recounting and that writers of epics drew upon to establish the epic quality of their poems.
#1 There is an INVOCATION or formal plea for aid/help. This plea is usually to a deity or some other spiritual power.
#2 The action begins
IN MEDIAS RES… literally meaning “in the middle of things”
The epic begins in medias res and then flashes back to events that took place before the narrator’s current time setting
#4 Epic Similes- elaborately extended comparisons relating heroic events to simple, everyday events
The Epic Hero
Epic Hero Characteristics The epic hero is a “LARGER
THAN LIFE PERSON” who embodies the highest ideals of his culture
Real Example: In Gilgamesh, the epic hero Gilgamesh
is considered “larger-than-life” and embodies LOYALTY, VALOR/ COURAGE, SENSE OF JUSTICE, DIGNITY, PERSISTENCE, and many other traits of the culture.
Epic Hero Characteristics The epic hero usually undertakes a
QUEST/ JOURNEY to achieve something of great value to themselves or society
Epic Hero Characteristics Epic heroes
“LIVE ON AFTER DEATH”… meaning they are forever remembered by those who live after them… achieving a type of IMMORTALITY
Epic Hero Characteristics Not a “Superman” with magical powers, but a “REGULAR” human whose aspirations and accomplishments set him/her apart
Epic Hero Characteristics Overcomes great obstacles/opponents but
Epic Hero Characteristics Epic hero experiences typical
HUMAN EMOTIONS/ FEELINGS, yet is able to master and control these human traits to a greater degree than a typical person
Epic Hero Characteristics It is often necessary for the epic hero to connect/make
contact with “LESSER” humans in order to succeed
The epic hero is an
Archetype An archetype is a pattern that appears in literature across cultures and is repeated through the ages. An archetype can be a character, a plot, an image, or a setting.
An epic hero is a larger than life figure from a history or legend, usually favored by or even partially descended from deities, but aligned more closely with mortal figures in popular portrayals. The hero participates in a cyclical journey or quest, faces adversaries that try to defeat him in his journey, gathers allies along his journey, and returns home significantly transformed by his journey.
Hero’s Family The Hero’s mother is a royal virgin The Hero’s father is a king The Circumstances of the Hero’s birth are unusual The Hero is reputed to be the son of a god At the birth of the Hero there is often an attempt to kill him. He may be kidnapped or sent away for his
What is a tragic hero? The tragic hero is a man of noble stature. He is not an ordinary man, but a man with outstanding quality and greatness about him. His own destruction is for a greater cause or principle.
Aristotle: "A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall." It should be noted that the hero's downfall is his own fault as a result of his own free choice, but his misfortune is not wholly deserved. Usually his death is seen as a waste of human potential. His death usually is not a pure loss, because it results in greater knowledge and awareness.
Tragic Hero Vocab # Hamartia - a.k.a. the tragic flaw that eventually leads to his downfall. # Hubris - a sort of arrogant pride or over-confidence or excessive ambition. # Peripeteia - a reversal of fortune brought about by the hero's tragic flaw
Summary of Tragic Hero His actions result in an increase of self- awareness and self-knowledge The audience must feel pity and fear for this character.
Aristotle's ideas about tragedy were recorded in his book of literary theory titled Poetics. In it, he has a great deal to say about the structure, purpose, and intended effect of tragedy. His ideas have been adopted, disputed, expanded, and discussed for several centuries now.
Characteristics of a Tragic Hero 1. The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness. This should be readily evident in the play. The character must occupy a "high" status position but must ALSO embody nobility and virtue as part of his/her innate character.
The character should be born into some form of nobility or wisdom (remember that in ancient times, nobility was the royal family; modernly, nobility could be social.) The hero of classical tragedies is almost all male: one rare exception is Cleopatra, from Antony and Cleopatra
He is usually a king, a leader of men - his fate affects the welfare of a whole nation or number of people. Peasants do not inspire pity and fear as great men do. The sudden fall from greatness to nothing provides a sense of contrast.
2. Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great, he/she is not perfect. Otherwise, the rest of us--mere mortals--would be unable to identify with the tragic hero. We should see in him or her someone who is essentially like us, although perhaps elevated to a higher position in society. THUS, The character should be neither good nor bad, but the audience should be able to identify with the character.
2a. The character has a personality trait that leads to his/her downfall. (hubris) 2b. The character is doomed to make an error in judgment.
3. The hero's downfall, therefore, is partially her/his own fault, the result of free choice or his own actions, not of accident or villainy or some overriding, malignant fate. In fact, the tragedy is usually triggered by some error of judgment or some character flaw that contributes to the hero's lack of perfection noted above.
4. The character will fall from great heights or esteem when s/he realizes s/he has made an irreversible mistake. The fall is not pure loss. There is some increase in awareness, some gain in self-knowledge, some discovery on the part of the tragic hero.
5. Though the hero bears responsibility for his actions, his misfortunate is not wholly deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime. 6. The hero must suffer.
7. A tragic hero should arouse both pity and fear in his audience. Though it arouses solemn emotion, tragedy does not leave its audience in a state of depression. Aristotle argues that one function of tragedy is to arouse the "unhealthy" emotions of pity and fear and through a catharsis (which comes from watching the tragic hero's terrible fate) cleanse us of those emotions.
It might be worth noting here that Greek drama was not considered "entertainment," pure and simple; it had a communal function--to contribute to the good health of the community. This is why dramatic performances were a part of religious festivals and community celebrations.
7. The character will face a tragic death with honor.
Oedipus as a tragic hero: http://personal.monm.edu/ysample/her opattern.htm Remember that a tragic hero doesn't have to meet ALL of these characteristics, but should meet most of them
Aristotle wrote down these characteristics of a tragic hero for classical Greek tragedy plays. However, Shakespeare plays are often noted for their excellent portrayals of tragic heroes.
Shakespeare’s Tragic Hero Four of Shakespeare's principal tragic characters: King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III and Hamlet.
Hamlet Here's an example of a principal Shakespeare character who is regarded as a tragic hero. Hamlet's fatal flaw, as seen by Aristotle, would be his failure to act immediately to kill Claudius. Unlike classical tragic heroes, however, Hamlet is well aware of his fatal
The strange, the supernatural and chance Shakespeare occasionally represents abnormal conditions of mind: insanity, somnambulism, hallucinations - e.g. King Lear's insanity
Oedipus as a Tragic Hero This is slightly different from the Aristotelian classical tragedies such as Oedipus Rex where Oedipus is not aware of his flaw until the very end.
Modern-day tragic heroes?
In the Modernist era (late 19th and early 20th century), a new kind of tragic hero was created out of a result of this "classical" definition. The modern hero, it seems, does not necessarily have to be of a high estate - but rather an "ordinary person". The story may not result in an epiphany of awareness or even come to a resolution of catharsis. He or she may not even die! The new tragic hero is also known as the "anti-hero".
Two examples of the modern-day tragic hero, or the anti-hero> Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby and Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman
References: Perrine, Laurence, and Thomas R. Arp. Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. 6th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publications, 1991. Garrick, David