The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
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Conventions of the Epic - In Media Res

The conventions for epic poetry were first developed by Aristotle in his short treatise on poetry, known as the “Poetics.”  In this work, Aristotle sought to define the characteristics of various types of poetry, among them, epic poetry.  According to Aristotle, all poetry is an imitations of life.  Listed below are the categories Aristotle defined for poetry: The first classification of poetry is broken into the poem’s use of rhythm, tune, and meter The second classification used by Aristotle deals with the quality of imitation used in the poem.  Does the poem make use of high imitation, in which the characters imitated act better than people would act in real life, or do the characters in the poem act worse than they would in real life? Next, Aristotle considers the narration of the poem.  Does the narrator assume another voice, as Homer does in the Iliad and the Odyssey, or does the narrator use his own voice? Aristotle then discusses the nature of the plot in poetry.  The plot must be complete, that it, it must have a beginning, a middle and an end, and must allow the initiation and completion of a series of events.  In addition, the plot must not contain extraneous events, but must be unified and consistent.  A plot is good insofar as if any one of the events in the narrative is removed or displaced, the story will suffer. He goes on to say that events in poetry should narrate what may happen, and that in doing so he must adhere to the laws of probability and necessity.  Plots can be broken down into two kinds:  simple and complex.  A simple plot involves a change in the hero’s fortune without a reversal f fortune.  A complex plot has a change in the fortune of the hero, which is followed by a reversal of fortune. Complex plots also involve the concept of recognition- that is, a change from ignorance to knowledge on the part of the protagonist. Aristotle also defines the nature of character development within a poem.  The first requirement is for the character to be good.  The second is appropriateness, in other words, the character should act as we expect him or her to act in a given situation.  The third thing expected of a character is that the character should be true to life; that is, the actions of a character should be within the realm of possibility.  Finally, the actions of a character should be consistent, that is, a character cannot be good at one moment and bad the next moment. The plotting of a poem should develop so that the action develops until a turning point is reached.  Once the turning point is reached, then the poem should unwind toward the end. Aristotle is quick to point out that although a poem should have a beginning, it is not necessary for the poet to start at the beginning of everything involved in the story as a whole.  As an example, Homer does not start the Iliad with the judgment of Paris, or the marriage of Thetis and Peleus, nor does he cover the first nine years in the Trojan War.  Rather, Homer concentrates on the events in the last year of the War, and further restricts his tale to a few weeks that occur in the tenth year of the War. Epic poetry is distinguished from other types of poetry by the scale of the subject matter covered in the poem.  As an example, the Iliad and Odyssey not only cover the lives of men, but also of gods and demi-gods.  The scale of the poems can therefore be said to extend to the known universe in Homer’s time. The Iliad and the Odyssey are  composed in dactylic hexameter, a verse form that is six feet long (dactyl refers to a finger, which is the basic stress pattern of one   “foot” long, short, short).  A dactylic hexameter is then shown as—u u/—u u/—u u/—u  u/—u u/ followed by – u or——; The dactylic hexameter is ideally suited to Greek and Latin speech patterns, in much the same way that the iambic pentameter is suited to English speech patterns.  The iambic pentameter is marked by a short followed by a long accent u—/u—/u—/u—/u—