The Grandest of All Epic Poems in All of Civilization

The mark of a civilization is the ability of its people to write, and writing a poem is said to be the highest form of writing. An epic poem is history, culture, mythology and narrative all in one. In the age before the Internet, poets and historians were the primary repository and purveyors of information. Reading epic poems allows modern-day readers to have a greater degree of understanding of what happened in the past.

So which of the epic poems are the most epic?

Dante – The Divine Comedy (1308-1321)

Man has always been intrigued by the concepts of sin and punishment, and Dante in this epic takes Virgil on a journey to show him the seven layers of hell. As Virgil gets deeper into the different circles, the sins get worse, and the punishment even harsher than the previous one. One purpose it served was the popularization of the Italian vernacular when Latin was the norm.

The Mahabharata (350 BCE)

This extremely long text is given credit for shaping the Hindu identity. The epic speaks from the point of view of Vyasa as he follows the human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Two dynasties, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, are seen fighting it out for power and domination in the mythical Elephant City.

Beowulf (~8th-11th century CE)

Whether delivered as an online class or face-to-face, any English literature course would always include the classic Beowulf. There is, of course, a movie on the subject and can provide a good summary of the epic poem, but the whole story of the swamp creature Grendel, the dragons and the heroic adventures of Beowulf, the main character, could better be appreciated when reading the poem itself.

John Milton – Paradise Lost (1667)

Known as the Great Protestant Epic, Paradise Lost is John Milton’s best investment and work. Dabbling in religion, the fall of Satan and the Fall of Adam, Milton was able to depict Satan as a complex figure who was at war with God. He successfully built on and used many of Homer’s epic devices, with the use of extensive similes and vivid description of the heavenly war games.

Lord Byron – Don Juan (1819)

One of the more modern epic poets, Lord Byron, was one of the Romantic figures. He has always been known for the great degree of stylistic extravagance he used in Don Juan, which narrates the story of an amorous man who was eventually exiled to Cadiz.

The Epic of Gilgamesh (~2000 BCE)

Given credit as the oldest known work of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh is based on the story of a real Assyrian King, who reigned over Uruk, a city in ancient Sumer. Gilgamesh was accused of abusing his powers, and so the deities had to intervene and created Enkidu, a man who was made as strong as the King himself. This is also considered as one of the humanistic works as the gods were depicted to prefer pleasure over ruthlessness.

The Homeric Poems – The Odyssey (~800 BCE)

This is one of the poems written by Homer, who is recognized as one of the greatest literary masters in the world. The story is that of the Warrior Odysseus, who journeys to find his way home from the city of Troy through the Peloponnesian Sea. Many of the poetic devices and narrative techniques used in this poem had influenced what is now called Western Literature.

The Homeric Poems – The Iliad (~800 BCE)

This epic shows how the humans showed their military powers when Helen was taken from Sparta. Achilles led the Myrmidons and went to Troy to destroy his enemies. There is a certain degree of involvement from the Greek gods, which showed how man was trying to detach themselves from the deities.

Virgil – The Aeneid (19 BCE)

Perhaps one of the most significant Roman epics, The Aenid, was written at the height of Emperor Augustus’ reign. It takes off from where The Iliad ended and saw Aeneas take the journey from Troy to Carthage. Aeneas was seen as a patriotic person who prioritized his nationalistic duties over personal desires.

Ovid – Metamorphoses (8 AD)

Written in dactylic hexameter, with six long syllables interspaced with shorter ones, Metamorphoses is a retelling of and confirmation of a myth. It consists of 15 books, divided into sixteen sections. The narrator first expresses his desire for transformation and then his intention to write one long poem that chronicles the origin of the world until his point in history. The writer made the necessary time investments, writing this over several m