Generally, epic poems are mythological histories, meaning they are a melting pot of famous figures from history and historical events. In the case of The Odyssey, the battle of Troy is the beginning of the epic with the famous Odysseus, warrior of Ithaca, as its hero.
Epics typically begin as oral traditions being passed down for generations before being written down. To this end, epic poems have an order and repetition of the events that made them easier to remember. Due to their length, epic poems, like other oral traditions such as long speeches, often took days to tell!
You may be wondering, in what ways is The Odyssey an epic? Below, you will find several examples of epic poem elements in The Odyssey. The journey Odysseus goes on is truly what makes him memorable in ancient Greek society.
The hero of an epic poem is typically well known in his time, often reaching superstar status. In ancient legends, the hero often is either partially divine, or at least protected by the gods. The epic hero often gives many long, formal speeches throughout the poem.
The first cell of the example shows Odysseus’s notoriety and what makes him an epic hero. He came up with the idea of using the Trojan Horse to infiltrate Troy and seize the city during the Trojan War. For this, and acts like it, he was celebrated as a great leader and warrior.
The epic hero, who is usually the main character amongst other important characters, accomplishes feats no real human could, both physically and mentally.
Odysseus shows his strength many times. However, it is his defeat of the suitors that proves his superiority to normal men. After 20 years at sea, he returns home to find his estate overrun with men squandering his storerooms and trying to take his wife. Outnumbered ten to one, he kills them all, and restores his kingdom.
The actions of the hero span the continent, other realms, or even another world.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, much of the adventure happens in the Mediterranean Sea, on various islands. However, the hero also travels to the ancient Greek underworld in search of the prophet Tiresias.
Gods, demons, angels, time/space travel, cheating death, divine intervention, immortality, and other supernatural elements.
The gods of ancient Greece play a significant role in this epic. Athena is Odysseus' aide, Poseidon is his enemy, and Zeus...well he doesn't really want to get involved.
The style of epic poems is frequently ornate, drawn out, or exaggerated; it is a long narrative poem. The Odyssey is written in dactylic hexameter, which is a rhythmic scheme or metric format often used in Greek and Latin poetry. Epic poems usually begin with what’s known as, “medias res”, or the initial action that plunges the hero into their first adventure.
Homer was not always subtle with his poetry. This is expected of an epic story. Some use of exaggerated style includes:
Epic similes and metaphors: You will find many epic simile examples in The Odyssey. Here is one example of an epic simile: “Her mind in torment, wheeling like some lion at bay, dreading the gangs of hunters closing their cunning ring around him for the finish.” Another example is when Homer repeatedly uses the term “rose red fingers” to mean the coming of dawn or a new day.
Epithets: That man skilled in all ways of contending.
The narrator sees and knows all.
Throughout The Odyssey, the narrator uses third person omniscient. He writes as though from a god’s point of view, witnessing and experiencing everything that takes place in the story.
(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)
Create a storyboard that shows the six elements of epic poems in The Odyssey.
(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)
| Proficient |
| Emerging |
| Beginning |
The six common elements of an epic are correctly identified and portrayed from the story. The quotes and/or explanations give context to the scene, and are accurate and appropriate to the element being depicted.
4-5 epic elements are correctly identified and portrayed from the story, or some of the elements may not be identified correctly. The quotes and/or explanations give context to the scene, but may be minimal, and are mostly accurate for the element being depicted.
1-3 elements of an epic are correctly identified and portrayed from the story, or most of the elements are inaccurately depicted. The quotes and/or explanations are too minimal, or missing altogether.
The art chosen to depict the scenes are accurate to the work of literature. Time and care is taken to ensure that the scenes are neat, eye-catching, and creative.
The art chosen to depict the scenes should be accurate, but there may be some liberties taken that distract from the assignment. Scene constructions are neat, and meet basic expectations.
The art chosen to depict the scenes is inappropriate. Scene constructions are messy and may create some confusion, or may be too limited.
Ideas are organized. There are few or no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas are mostly organized. There are some grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas may be disorganized or misplaced. Lack of control over grammar, mechanics, and spelling reflect a lack of proofreading.
Teachers can begin by introducing the concept of Epic to the students. They can provide simple definitions and examples from the text. For a better understanding of the students, they can also use visuals to explain this abstract concept.
The status quo is established at the outset, and the motivations and objectives of the key characters are introduced, the rising activity occurs in the middle, where tensions and difficulties materialize, and the conclusion includes the climax and denouement, where unresolved issues are resolved. Students can use this basic structure for the analysis.
Focus on the protagonist, the main character whose journey forms the foundation of the story. Examine significant supporting figures who have an impact on the protagonist's journey or serve to highlight significant themes. The journey of the main characters and the events surrounding them are a major part of the Epic.
Settings might serve a symbolic purpose. A hero's journey through numerous settings may symbolize their struggles or personal development. Think about how the world the epic is situated in reflects the morals and ideologies of that culture.
Determine the main ideas (such as fate or heroism) and recurrent themes (such as loyalty or divine intervention). Students can also consider the ways in which people and situations represent these ideas and motifs.
Take into account the epic's historical and cultural setting and consider how the epic has inspired later writing and storytelling customs.
Epic poetry is stories told on a grand scale, with armies, heroes, gods, and the brutal forces of nature depicted over long character arcs and sweeping landscapes. Protagonists meet with obstacles and disaster, action and triumph. Along with some other patterns and nuances, these elements distinguish epics from other writing styles. In this article, you will learn how to teach students the elements of the epic genre by using fun and easy-to-create storyboards.
In order to be considered epic poetry, a poem must include the following elements: a legendary hero, superhuman adventures, multiple settings, involvement of the supernatural, an epic style of writing, and a narrator that knows and sees all.
The Odyssey is an epic poem because the Hero, Odysseus, has grand adventures in multiple settings that involve the supernatural, while the narrator is always present. You will find all six elements of epic poetry in The Odyssey.