A Beginner’s Guide To Reading 3 Epic Poems

epic [ep-ik] adj. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style

A few days I came across a curious thing on Tumblr: a student who was interested in and in possession of three epic poems – The Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid – in translation, and who wanted to read them but didn’t know how to approach them in a way that made them easy to understand.

As a classics major in undergrad, I had little trouble understanding what was going on in these epics because I had been exposed to the stories, in varying amounts, and the cultural context of the stories for a number of years already. I can only imagine what it’s like to read these stories with little to no knowledge of the Greco-Roman world or the literature that came from it.

So, after a lot of thinking, I figured the easiest way to explain how to approach these epics was to provide anyone who wants to know how (i.e. anyone who’s reading this) with 1) a brief overview of the background, major characters, and major cultural topics of each epic and with 2) a general outline of the structure(s) of the epics.

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