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ECON 4400

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Lecture 2 Clements 1 School of Arts and Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies Summer 2009 AK/HUMA 1780 6.0A Stories in Diverse Media Homer's EpicThe Odyssey You are probably more familiar with the term epic than you think. We use it to describe things quite commonly. What are its connotations? What do you think someone means when he or she describes something as epic? In a word: big. The film industry has taken on the task of trying to be the vehicle for our current epics. As I mentioned in the last lecture, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an example of filmic epic. Other epics include Troy, which is based on The IliadHomer's other long narrative. In terms of content, The Iliad precedes our reading for this week, The Odyssey. Odysseus, you'll remember if you have seen the movie, is actually a character in Troy (he is played by Sean Beanwho also plays Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring funnily enough!). He uses his cunning ways to devise the plan of how to invade the city of Troy: the famous Trojan Horse. Another filmic example, in this case taken from historical material, is Braveheart. Given these examples, what are some of the defining features of this genre? Length o each of them is at least 2 hours, if not much longer Heroes o usually extraordinary heroes o in most cases they are men o women are usually marginal, either helpers along the way, sometimes the romantic interest, or hindrances and temptations to Lecture 2 Clements 2 avoid. Interactions with women often function as tests that the hero must pass in order to move on in his quest. o many, many characters The stories often necessitate: o Perseverance o Overcoming hardship, difficulty, or obstacles The subject matter tends to include: o Standing up against a tyrant o Good vs. evil (little complication in terms of psychological depth) o Saving people o Huge battles o Many different locations o A long journey or quest Obviously, we are still fascinated by this type of narrative that had its beginnings about 800 years or so Before Common Era (B.C.E.). The superhero from comic books, and the various proliferations into Saturday morning cartoons, movies, and video games, is a modern-day example of this same type of hero (we'll see how this model for a character has changed and how it has not when we get to V for Vendetta and Batman). North American movie goers are willing to fork over a lot of money to see this same story retold, yes with variations, but basically the same quest narrative of overcoming hardshipover and over and over again. I hate to spoil the ending, but the hero is probably going to figure things out by the end and make it to his destination. What Lecture 2 Clements 3 becomes important, then, is how the hero makes that journey, how he faces obstacles, and what he learns in the process. You'll notice with each of the film examples above, there is also a nod to history. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings is so comprehensive, so detailed, that it comes across as historical fact. He spent years building up the world of middle earth before he even wrote the story. Peter Jackson's meticulous attention to those details is part of the success of the movies. Tolkein's nod to history was an effort to create a particularly British mythology, a history that he felt was lacking in Britain's past. Braveheart is also based on an historical figure: William Wallace, a Scottish clansman who stood up to Edward I and convinced his fellow countrymen to go to war against the English king. The English at the time completely dominated the countryside and were becoming influential on the continent. So for the Scots, driving them out of their lands seemed not only impossible, but arrogant. Yet Wallace generated enough courage in his fellow clansmen to fight against Longshanks, as Edward was known, against what seemed to be insurmountable odds. "Ah, perfect," Mel Gibson must have thought, "let's make an epic." (If the hero suffers sound beatings and extensive torture, Mel will find a way to play the role, or at least direct it.) The historical component of epics is also part of another aspect of these long narratives. Typically, such stories are bound up in a national consciousness. The hero either saves the entire nation (like Wallace), or, as we see more and more in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as the world becomes more globalized, the entire world (again, The Lord of the Rings is an example, albeit a different world, but I would suggest its popularity is perhaps partly a result of the current cultural moment). Since the Second Lecture 2 Clements 4 World War especially, the idea that we could destroy the entire world has raised the stakes for our heroes. Not only must they save a nation, but now they need to save the entire world from imminent destruction. All those action movies are based on the epic plot (and in so many versions set in contemporary times, the hero is inevitably American). So I'd like to collect these attributes that I've been discussing into a definition of epic for you (as usual I have them collected on a slide for you. See Lecture Summary Slide 2). Now that you've read a bit of one of the Western hemisphere's most famous and enduring epics, we can also make our definition a bit more specific. I hope you all noticed, although you may have resented it, that what you read for this week was poetry. But I hope you also noticed that it's not the poetry that you may hate from unhappy moments in your high school English class. In fact, it doesn't even rhyme. And, perhaps, once you got going, the story wasn't half bad, although there was probably too much of it for your liking. Things happen in an epic lots and lots of things happen. Typically, before the heyday of the novel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, epics were written in the form of poetry. If an author wanted to prove himselfand yes, I'm saying himself because historically boys were the only one's with access to learning about such traditionshe would try his hand at writing an epic in verse. Anyone encountered Virgil's Aeneid or John Milton's Paradise Lost? They are two art epics written in poetry, a genre established by Homer's epics. To summarize, an epic is a long narrative poem celebrating the great deeds of one or more legendary heroes, in a grand ceremonious style.
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