Protagonists come in many varieties. Some are relatable and easy to identify with. Others are constantly struggling and easy to sympathize with. An archetypal protagonist is the "Epic Hero", a character with impressive qualities who completes awe-inspiring deeds. This lesson helps students identify and understand the epic hero in literature.
By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!
What is an epic hero and how do I know who they are? Teach students the literary device and ask them to think deeply about their attributes and how they affect the work as a whole.
Epic Hero Definition
It was the Greeks who first defined the protagonist known as an epic hero. These heroes of a tragedy must evoke in the audience a sense of heroism through legendary, awe-inspiring lore. An epic hero must be a man whose fortune is brought about by his own admired characteristics. Many of the famous Greek Epic Poems, such as The Odyssey and The Iliad, contain these larger-than-life heroes and their deeds. King Arthur, Beowulf, Siegfried, Gilgamesh, and Rama are all examples of epic heroes.
To learn more about other hero types, take a look at our article on "Types of Heroes".
The Seven Principal Characteristics of an Epic Hero
Usually a king, prince, demi-god, or nobleman of some capacity.
The warrior has the potential for greatness based on their attributes, e.g. cunning, bravery, humility, wisdom, virtue.
An epic hero is known for making travels to exotic locations by choice or chance, usually to battle against evil.
This hero typically has a reputation for being a great warrior, even prior to the beginning of the story.
Before an Epic Hero can be universally known, he must first be a legend in his culture.
The hero performs great deeds for their own sake rather than glory. Heroes that boast, or exhibit hubris may be punished and humbled.
Battles Supernatural Foes
The opponents and obstacles the hero faces are usually supernatural beings, e.g. Grendel, Poseidon, or a cyclops.
Time: Introduction - 45 Minutes
Grade Level: 8-12
Although this lesson can be used for multiple grade levels, below are examples of the Common Core State Standards for grades 9-10. Please see your Common Core State Standards for the correct grade-appropriate strands.
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task
ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5: Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest
Lesson Specific Essential Questions
What are the characteristics of someone who has an extensive reputation?
Can you distinguish an epic hero from a typical character in a work of literature?
What do we learn from the virtues of an epic hero?
Optional: What difference between an epic hero, a tragic hero, and an antihero? How might they be the same?
Students will be able to define epic hero, list epic heroes from works of literature, film, or television, and take away the effects of an epic hero on plot.
What students should know and be able to do before starting this lesson:
Students should be able to list heroes and villains from popular works of literature or movies and television.
Anticipated Student Preconceptions/Misconceptions
Some students will have prior knowledge and may know the definition of an epic hero. They might also have misconceptions about epic heroes and even confuse them with everyday heroes. This can be clarified after the activator during the teacher review stage.
During: Elements of an Epic Hero Template (worksheet #2)
Example/After: Odysseus Epic Hero (worksheet #3)
Access to Storyboard That
Instructional Tips/Strategies/Suggestions for Teacher
Be specific when asking students to create a storyboard that shows the qualities of an Epic Hero. Make sure that students include an explanation of each attribute as well as a quote that backs up their claim. If they are doing this as a project, having the students download their storyboards to a PowerPoint is a perfect way for them to present an explanation of each cell.
Activator: Students will be given Worksheet #1 and instructed to fill in the boxes to the best of their ability. If students cannot fill in Box 3 (List Epic Heroes) then tell them that they may leave it blank. After five minutes ask students to compare lists with someone sitting near them. Then ask each pair to say one hero or villain out loud and make a list on the board. Once that is complete, ask them why they know the lists on the board are heroes or villains? As a class, come up with definitions for each and a list of attributes they possess.
Teaching the term: Next, ask all students if anyone had prior knowledge and knew what an epic hero is or if anyone has a guess or list of this type of character. If they did, write down on the board what they give for an answer. If no one knows, begin to front-load the term. After giving students the definition, ask them to think of characters from movie, TV, and literature that they think would fall in this category and make a list. Repeat with a think, pair, share and make a list of characters and a list of attributes.
Defining the term: After students have come up with a list of attributes that they believe an epic hero possesses, go over definition and characteristics. Ask students to fill out and keep track of the attributes that make the protagonist of your work an epic hero by writing in the answers to Worksheet #2.
After students have finished reading the novel/play, reinforce this lesson by asking them to complete their storyboard that shows each attribute using a scene and quote from the text. This lesson extension coupled with a slide show presentation will help students master the concept of epic hero. (Example Worksheet 3)