Epic Poetry Vocabulary
From Gerald R. Lucas
The following vocabulary is important in the study of the epic. This is just a glossary that gives a general idea of the term; further research is always encouraged.
- A bard, or an early singer of oral epic poetry. Homer’s depiction of Demodocus in the Odyssey is an aoidos.
- Literally “turning away”, it’s the narrator’s interruption of the narration to directly address to a character or some abstract quality as if it was present. The rhapsode’s traditional invocation to the muse in epic poetry is an example of apostrophe. See “O My Rider.”
- The excellence or moral virtue of a hero.
- Literally “excellence,” this is when an epic hero reaches his finest moments in battle.
- The “best people,” the nobility or aristocrats. Sharing the same root as arete, the aristos are the heroes of the Homeric epics.
- Dactylic hexameter
- The meter of epic poetry has six dactyl (a long and two short syllables) feet. This provides the musical rhythm of the verse.
- Formulaic units used as mnemonic aids and a way to adhere to dactylic hexameter, epithets described characters or things using a characteristic quality, like the “wily Odysseus” or “Pallas Athena.” Homer often used compound adjectives as epithets, like “wine-dark sea” and “rosy-fingered dawn” called Homeric epithets.
- Cunning intelligence, or “with many wiles”: with polytropos, another of Odysseus’ epithets. This is Odysseus the strategist.
- “Versatile” or with “many twists and turns”: the chief epithet of Odysseus. As Hexter points out, Odysseus’ “creative cunning and manifold misfortunes” are represented by the many poly- adjectives Homer employs to describe him: “Flexibility, adaptability, and trickiness belong to the core of Odysseus’ being.”
- The code of hospitality or “guest-friendship” exemplified by a pattern of behaviors and expectations between the host and the guest.
- Cuddon, J. A. (1976). A Dictionary of Literary Terms (Revised ed.). New York: Penguin.
- Frye, Northrup; Baker, Sheridan; Perkins, George; Perkins, Barbara M. (1997). The Harper Handbook to Literature (Second ed.). New York: Longman.
- Harmon, William; Holman, Hugh (2003). A Handbook to Literature (Ninth ed.). Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Hexter, Ralph (1993). A Guide to the Odyssey. New York: Vintage.
- Kennedy, X. J.; Giola, Dana; Bauerlein, Mark (2013). Handbook of Literary Terms: Literature, Language, Theory. Boston: Pearson.