An epic poem tells the story of heroic acts or significant historical or mythological events. In Homer’s Odyssey, the poem recounts Odysseus’ epic journey on his way back home. However, how was the poem considered an epic one? Continue reading to find out and discover more!
In What Way Is the Odyssey an Epic?
The Odyssey is an epic because the story’s hero, Odysseus has faced antagonists with supernatural abilities, the plot revolves around the participation of gods and goddesses, and has an ending where Odysseus becomes a rightful leader and conqueror. Below are the seven characteristics of The Odyssey as an epic piece:
Long Narrative Poem
The Odyssey consists of 12,109 lines divided into 24 books. It is a story poem that depicts the account of Odysseus’ homecoming after 20 years of battle and struggles on his journey back home to Ithaca.
An ornate and exaggerated style of writing is common for epic. Homer’s writing style was not always subtle, since, in The Odyssey, the poem begins with a muse’s invocation.
In addition, epic poems are commonly written in dactylic hexameter or what is commonly known as the Homeric hexameter.
Note that a hexameter is a line or rhythm with six stressed syllables, whereas a dactylic hexameter (used in ancient Greek poetry) usually has five dactyls and either a spondee (two long stressed syllables) or trochee (two short stressed syllables or one long stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable).
A Hero of Legendary Stature
An epic must have a hero who embodies the values of his culture. Usually, an epic hero of old folklore is half-mortal or is protected by the gods. They are well-known and usually with royal lineage.
In the Greek epic poem, Odyssey, Odysseus is the king of Ithaca and a Greek hero of the Trojan war, he was known as a legendary hero. He fought numerous monsters and triumphed over them. He conquered the hearts of the two temptresses and successfully arrived home wherein he once again demonstrated that he is the rightful ruler of Ithaca by overcoming his wife’s suitors and restoring his kingship.
Superhuman Strength and Brave Adventures
Heroes were viewed as possessing an incredible amount of power, may it be physically or mentally. They are set apart by their extraordinary capabilities that no normal man has.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus demonstrated his strength countless times, but most notably in the event after he returns home and finds his wife’s suitors in his home. Being the clever man that he is, Odysseus was able to devise a plan and successfully defeated the suitors and restored his kingdom.
Moreover, Odysseus’ travel adventures lasted for ten years, during which he encountered several instances wherein he struggled between continuing his journey or not. He was even made a prisoner for seven years, but with divine assistance, he was able to get his freedom and continue on his journey. His love for and loyalty to his wife, Penelope, drove him to be even more courageous in facing all the obstacles.
In an epic story, the hero is not contained in a stagnant setting. His activities reach far and wide as the neighboring continents, realms, or even other dimensions. In the Odyssey, many of the fights take place on numerous islands in the Mediterranean Sea, but there was also a scene in which Odysseus went to the underworld.
Involvement of the Supernatural
Usually, an epic has two plotlines that run at the same time: one plot involves the human characters while the other plot involves the gods or higher beings. The divine elements intervene in the plot on a human level.
In The Odyssey, there is a lot of involvement by the gods, immortality, and other supernatural themes. In fact, the gods played a very important role in Odysseus’ fate. Odysseus found an ally in Athena, who favored him and looked out for his welfare, whereas Poseidon, the god of the sea, became his adversary. Because of Athena, the other Olympian gods, along with Zeus and Hermes, also played a part.
The poem uses the third-person narrative. The narrator sees and knows everything as if he was a god watching and experiencing everything that happens in the poem. In The Odyssey, the narrator certainly made the audience or reader feel like they have an untouchable presence in every scene. The narrator is able to experience and visualize what is happening but unaffected by the outcome.
In What Way Is the Odyssey an Epic?
It is a series meeting criterion after criterion of the seven characteristics discussed above as defined for an epic poem in literature.
In What Way Is the Odyssey an Epic Hero Archetype?
The main character, Odysseus, perfectly matches the character archetype of a hero, and the plot of the story in the poem revolves around his heroic adventures on his journey back to his home.
In order to understand if the Odyssey is an epic or not, one must first understand the definition of being an “epic” and what it takes for a literary piece to be considered one. Let us outline the keynotes of what we have discussed:
- Epics are defined as mythological histories of prominent individuals or events.
- It is a phrase in the literature used to describe works of literature that satisfy all the needed characteristics.
- An epic poem must be a long poem in form of a narrative, written in an ornate style and hexameter dactylic format has a hero of legendary stature with supernatural strength and bravery, told in multiple settings, and has the involvement of the supernatural.
- The narration of an epic is delivered in an omniscient way.
- All of these mentioned characteristics can be found in Homer’s Odyssey.
Traditionally, epics are started orally and passed down through the generations before being written. As a result, epics contain a structure and repetitive events that make them easier to remember. It is amazing to realize that an epic poem this long (with 12,109 ornate lines), which would surely take days to narrate, has been passed down orally through many generations.