Epics & Epic Heroes

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GENERAL DEFINING FEATURES of the EPIC GENRE

BASED ON WESTERN EPIC MODELS
From M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed. (1993)
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1. Long narrative poem on serious subject
2. Told in formal, elevated style
3. Centers on heroic or quasi-divine figures on whose action depend the fate of a group, a nation, and/or humankind
4. Action is heroic deeds in battle, long, arduous journeys, or quests
5. Gods and other supernatural beings take an interest and an active role in human affairs.

EPIC HERO

Although length and complexity are hallmarks of the epic poem, the most important element is the hero. The hero of an epic is a human being with characteristics a society admires and often wishes to COPY. The hero is male, attractive, and unusually strong and able. He is a trained solider or warrior and believes in and follows the code of honor for which he is willing to sacrifice his life. He fights for the noble cause: those who cannot defend themselves, usually women and children; the preservation of a society; honor; and the noble way of life. The hero is considered better in most respects than the common man.

However, the hero is also in many ways the same as the ordinary man. He has the same longings and desires as any man might have: the desire to be beloved and respected by his own people; the desire for some degree of wealth or material comfort; the desire for a family with children, especially sons like himself; the desire to stand out above his fellow human beings in some way; the desire not to being shame to himself or his family in any way. The hero also hopes that the divine will favor him and his cause.

1. The Epic Hero is a larger-than-life hero who embodies the values of a particular society.
2. An epic hero is superhuman. He is braver, stronger, smarter, and cleverer than an ordinary person.
3. The epic hero is on a quest for something of great value to him or to his people.
4. The villains who try to keep the hero from his quest are usually uglier, more evil, and more cunning than anyone we know in ordinary life.
5. The epic hero is often of mixed divine and human birth and so possesses human weakness.
6. The divine world (the gods) interferes with the human world.

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