This week: Epic PoetryEdited by: Lonewolf
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I thought I would explore the style form known as Epic Poetry.
Traditionally, an epic poem is a long, serious, poetic narrative about a significant event, often featuring a hero. Before the development of writing, epic poems were memorized and played an important part in maintaining a record of the great deeds and history of a culture. Later, they were written down and the tradition for this kind of poem continued. Epics often feature a hero who embodies the values of a culture or ethnic group; something vital that depends on the success of the hero's actions; a broad setting, sometimes encompassing the entire world; intervention by supernatural beings. A few examples of epics include:
Out I went, into the world, but there was none better, none whom he, Gilgamesh, could not best.
And so, with his arms, he returned to Uruk. But in their houses, the men of Uruk muttered:
'Gilgamesh, noisy Gilgamesh! Arrogant Gilgamesh!'
All young men gone - Defeated by Gilgamesh, and no son was left to his father.
All young girls made women by Gilgamesh
His lusts are such, and no virgin left to her lover!
Not the daughter of a warrior,
Nor the wife of a nobleman!
Yet he is king and should be
The people's careful shepherd.
He is king and should be
Shepherd of the city.
He is wise, he is handsome, he is firm as a rock.
In heaven the gods heard
Heard the lament of the people,
And the gods cried out to the Great God, higher king of Uruk:
'Strong as a wild bull is this Gilgamesh
So he was made by Aruru, the goddess
None there is who can - not one
None who can survive him in fighting.
No son left to his father.
Gilgamesh, he takes them all, and is he
He the king? Shepherd of the people?
No virgin left to her lover, For he lusts strongly!
No, nor the wife of the nobleman!
The Great God heard this, then
To the Goddess of Creation, Aruru -
Cried all the gods:
'You created this Gilgamesh! Well, create him his equal!
Let him look as into mirrors - Give a second self to him, yes;
Rushing winds meet rushing winds!
Let them flow heart to heart against -
Give them each other to fight,
Leaving Uruk in peace!'
So the Goddess of Creation took and formed in her mind
This image, and there it was conceived -
in her mind, and it was made of material
That composes the Great God,
He of the Firmament.
She then plunged her hands down into water and pinched off a little clay. She let it drop in the wilderness
Thus the noble Enkidu was made. For this was he the very strength of Ninurta, the God of War, was his form, rough bodied, long hair,
His hair waved like corn filaments -
Yes, like the hair of that goddess
Who is the corn, she , Nisaba. Matted hair was all over his body, like the skins of the cattle.
Yes, like the body of that god.
Who is the cattle, he, Samugan.
This Enkidu was innocent of mankind.
He knew not the cultivated land.
Enkidu was in the hills
With the gazelles -
They jostled each other
With all the herds
He too loved the water-hole.
But one day by a water hole
A trapper met him
Yes, face to face,
Because the herds of wild game
Had strayed into his territory.
On three days face to face -
Each day the trapper wa terrified,
Frozen stiff with fear.
With his game he went home,
Unable to speak, numb with fright.
The trapper's face altered, new -
A long journey does that to one,
Gives a new visage upon returning -
The trapper, his heart all awe, told his father:
'Father, what a man! No other like him! He comes from the hills, strongest alive!
A star in heaven his strength,
Of the star essence of An, the Sky Father
Over the hills with the beasts
Ranges across all your land,
Goes to the wells.
I fear him, stay far away.
He fills in my pits
Tears up my game traps
Helps the beasts escape;
Now all the game slips away -
Through my fingers.'
His father opened his mouth,
Told the son, the trapper:
'My son, in Uruk lives Gilgamesh.
None can withstand him,
None has surpassed him,
As a star in heaven his strength
Of the star-essence of An, the Sky Father.
~ ~ ~
The Odyssey is an epic, a very long poem on a single subject. Some epics were composed in order to be performed from memory, and so they include poetic devices to make them more memorable. And many epics, probably including The Odyssey, were written to be performed to musical accompaniment.
~ ~ ~
Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.
So now all who escaped death in battle or by shipwreck had got safely home except Ulysses, and he, though he was longing to return to his wife and country, was detained by the goddess Calypso, who had got him into a large cave and wanted to marry him. But as years went by, there came a time when the gods settled that he should go back to Ithaca; even then, however, when he was among his own people, his troubles were not yet over; nevertheless all the gods had now begun to pity him except Neptune, who still persecuted him without ceasing and would not let him get home.
Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,
leader beloved, and long he ruled
in fame with all folk, since his father had gone
away from the world, till awoke an heir,
haughty Healfdene, who held through life,
sage and sturdy, the Scyldings glad.
Then, one after one, there woke to him,
to the chieftain of clansmen, children four:
Heorogar, then Hrothgar, then Halga brave;
and I heard that -- was --'s queen,
the Heathoscylfing's helpmate dear.
To Hrothgar was given such glory of war,
such honor of combat, that all his kin
obeyed him gladly till great grew his band
of youthful comrades. It came in his mind
to bid his henchmen a hall uprear,
a master mead-house, mightier far
than ever was seen by the sons of earth,
and within it, then, to old and young
he would all allot that the Lord had sent him,
save only the land and the lives of his men.
Wide, I heard, was the work commanded,
for many a tribe this mid-earth round,
to fashion the folkstead. It fell, as he ordered,
in rapid achievement that ready it stood there,
of halls the noblest: Heorot he named it
whose message had might in many a land.
Not reckless of promise, the rings he dealt,
treasure at banquet: there towered the hall,
high, gabled wide, the hot surge waiting
of furious flame. Nor far was that day
when father and son-in-law stood in feud
for warfare and hatred that woke again.
With envy and anger an evil spirit
endured the dole in his dark abode,
that he heard each day the din of revel
high in the hall: there harps rang out,
clear song of the singer. He sang who knew
tales of the early time of man,
how the Almighty made the earth,
fairest fields enfolded by water,
set, triumphant, sun and moon
for a light to lighten the land-dwellers,
and braided bright the breast of earth
with limbs and leaves, made life for all
of mortal beings that breathe and move.
So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel
a winsome life, till one began
to fashion evils, that field of hell.
Grendel this monster grim was called,
march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.
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