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Writing An Epic Poem Assignment

  • 1

    Read some epic poetry. After all, you're doing this to be a part of the tradition! An epic poet should at least have read Homer. Reading epics will give you a good sense of what the epic is all about. It will also inspire you to write your own epic, read more epics, and become a sea-faring hero.

  • 2

    Begin with a hero. Epic poetry always follows the adventures of a hero. Take, for instance, Homer's Odysseus, Virgil's Aeneas, Gilgamesh, or Beowulf. You are probably quite familiar with heroic traits, like bravery, justice, and virtue. In Classical epics, heroes also tend to be futuristic and callous. Those kinds of flaws make your hero interesting.

  • 3

    Plot out your epic journey. What challenges will your hero face, and why? Your hero might be on a quest to find something, a quest to save someone, a long voyage home from a distant war, or s/he might even be in the thick of the war itself. Think of twists and turns and complications that thicken this journey. You'll find, in the Classics, that jealous and quick-tempered gods play just as large a part in screwing up the plot as the hero's own flaws.

  • 4

    Invoke the muses. Now you're ready to start writing your epic! This part is optional (as it is a feature of Greek-Roman epic poetry), but if you want your epic to have that Classical form, you should begin with an invocation to the muse. "Sing to me, o muse, of..." is an archetypical invocation. The muses were goddesses, in Classical mythology, who inspired writers. There was a patron muse of every poetic style; the muse who inspired the epics was Calliope. John Milton also made use of this convention when he wrote his Christian epic, "Paradise Lost." Interestingly, Milton invokes the "Heavenly Muse," a device by which he substitutes the Judeao-Christian God for the ancient Greek goddesses of inspiration.

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    Write! This is the fun part. You can write your poem in any form, with or without metre. Nobody should tell you what form your writing should take. If you wish to write in the style of Homer, Virgil, Hesiod, and the other Classical poets, the metre they used was dactylic hexameter, or lines comprised of six dactyls (another article here should be able to help you with metre). Ancient Greek and Latin poetry did not rhyme, and yours doesn't have to either.

  • 6

    Name your work. Epics are almost always named after the hero. The Odyssey is named after Odysseus, the Aeneid after Aeneas, the Epic of Gilgamesh after Gilgamesh. Sometimes, it is named after a whole crew of people, like the Argonautica (named for the sailors of the Argos), but heroic epics mostly take their name from the hero. The English language does not have a suffix that you can add to a name to indicate topicality, so it might make less sense for you to call your work 'the Captain Jimmy-iad," but you could take a leaf out of Medieval poetry and call it 'the Song of X,' or 'The Tale of X.' Your title has to invoke the grandeur of your poem. Invoke away.

  • 7

    Publish your work. This is crucial if you want to become a household name. If you are even half as successful as Ovid, you will likely inspire writers for at least a few centuries. You might have trouble getting published by a mainstream house, as they are usually after novels, but there are many resources online for you, including print-on-demand self-publishing that can be anywhere from cheap to free.

  • EPIC POEM BASICS

    • The HERO is an nationally (or internationally) important (often legendary or historically significant) figure who is (usually) physically imposing and/or attractive.
    • The SETTING is vast — it may span the nation, the world, even the universe (or in our case, it might be local — as in the school or Springfield.
    • The QUEST consists of good deeds, bravery (sometimes at a supernatural level), supernatural powers and interference or assistance from forces beyond the realm of humanity (“the gods,” angels, or other heavenly–or otherwise–forces).
    • The writing STYLE is one of grand simplicity and is told objectively.

    ASSIGNMENT

    YOUR story MUST have

    • a HERO (like Beowulf) and
    • a SOCIAL PROBLEM, as represented metaphorically by the MONSTER (like Grendel and his representation of the Devil or anything that worked against Biblical teachings).
    • Your HERO must accept a QUEST and
    • some sort of supernatural interference or powers must be present somewhere in the story.
    • Your STYLE may be presented objectively, or you can approach it in a more contemporary narrative style.
    • It is okay to exaggerate the social problem for the sake of increasing your story’s excitement.

    The paper should be TYPED, and DOUBLE-SPACED.

    Image Credit:

    “The New Guy.” Florida Center for Instructional Technology. Educational Technology Clearinghouse. <http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/ 86500/86537/86537_the-new-guy.htm>. September 10, 2013.