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.
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.
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".
|Noble Birth||Usually a king, prince, demi-god, or nobleman of some capacity.|
|Superhuman Capabilities||The warrior has the potential for greatness based on their attributes, e.g. cunning, bravery, humility, wisdom, virtue.|
|Vast Traveler||An epic hero is known for making travels to exotic locations by choice or chance, usually to battle against evil.|
|Unmatched Warrior||This hero typically has a reputation for being a great warrior, even prior to the beginning of the story.|
|Cultural Legend||Before an Epic Hero can be universally known, he must first be a legend in his culture.|
|Humility||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.|
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.
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.
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.
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 Epic Hero Activator Worksheet 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 of a hero. 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 Elements of an Epic Hero Template.
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 the epic hero.
Have students attach their storyboard to a paper that requires students to give an in-depth explanation of the deeper meaning of their element throughout the novel. Or, couple this assignment with a presentation; see our article on how to present a storyboard.
Students can be assessed after their final storyboard project is completed and presented.