Writing Your Own Epic Poem

Writing Your Own Epic Poem: A Character Sketch of a Hero
Mike Levinson’s English Class
Hero/Challenge Brainstorm Sheets Due: Thursday/Friday, 1/23 & 1/25
Final Draft Due: Thursday/Friday, 2/6 & 2/7
DIRECTIONS: Since you are reading Homer’s The Odyssey, it is your turn to try your hand at writing your
own epic poem. Write a narrative poem that provides a character sketch and tells a story about a hero of your
generation, borrowing elements from Homer’s style to recreate the experience for your reader. The poem
should be an imaginative and artistic written creation of a hero who struggles with, meets, or overcomes a
challenge of your generation. You must include the most vivid, engaging, and meaningful aspects and elements
of a hero in the poem. The character sketch needs to reflect specific challenges that are posed to your
generation. Within the heroic challenge context of your poem, you must also be selective about which heroic
traits to emphasize. Most likely you will focus on developing one, for instance "loyalty." Choose a trait that is
either lacking in your generation or is necessary for your generation to emulate. You must earnestly feel that
the trait is valuable for you and your peers. Follow the steps below to write your poem. It must be typed and a
minimum of 500 words.
First, identify some elements of an epic poem. See the notes with this handout that describe the
Consider all of the following: The challenge that the hero is facing is clearly described and is a
true challenge of your generation. Heroic traits are emphasized in detail. The poem demonstrates
those traits clearly. There is enough description so that the reader can see and feel the experiences
of the hero and the situation he or she faces. There are Epithets, imagery, similes, and metaphors
used throughout the poem. The writer uses aesthetic/artistic vocabulary throughout the poem.
Do some pre-writing. Use brief notes to outline the hero and challenges of your generation.
Write your epic poem in the third-person, as if Homer is narrating your experience.
Abbreviated Sample of a previous students’ Epic Poetry
Andrew, courageous rider of the invisible horse,
Pursued his journey head strong into
The wicked mist that
Zeus laid upon him.
Eric, his valiant companion, assisted me on my long
Journey to the far off castle of the
Name that must not be said.
Only the bravest warriors throughout the land barely have
Enough courage say the name of the castle that must not be said.
Andrew, the bravest of the brace,
And Andrew’s companion ride out from their glorious home full
Of speed to the castle that must not be named.
Andrew, sensed danger all around him, lurking in the gloomy
Mist, like a shark ready to attack an unsuspecting
Fish. He went on, fearless of death, he knew nothing
Could kill the greatest warrior in all the land.
Athena, grey-eyed goddess, protected him
Where ever he went.
The trotting of the coconuts
Was the only sound that filled the air. The crackling of the leaves on the side of cobblestone road sent a dark vibe.
It was too late to turn back, and the castle was in sight.
The red and green neon sign of “7-11” burst through
The mist and became clear.
Epic Poetry Notes
Epic. An extended narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes and written in a high
style (with ennobled diction, for example). An epic hero is usually a person of great strength, wit or skill, whose
adventures usually contribute to the development of a particular race or nation. Characteristics of the classical epic
include these:
The main character or protagonist is heroically larger than life, often the source and subject of legend or a
national hero
The deeds of the hero are presented without favoritism, revealing his failings as well as his virtues
The action, often in battle, reveals the more-than-human strength of the heroes as they engage in acts of
heroism and courage
The setting covers several nations, the whole world, or even the universe
The episodes, even though they may be fictional, provide an explanation for some of the circumstances or
events in the history of a nation or people
The gods and lesser divinities play an active role in the outcome of actions
All of the various adventures form an organic whole, where each event relates in some way to the central
Typical in epics is a set of conventions (or epic machinery). Among them are these:
Poem begins with a statement of the theme ("Arms and the man I sing")
Invocation to the muse or other deity ("Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles")
Story begins in medias res (in the middle of things)
Catalogs (of participants on each side, ships, sacrifices)
Histories and descriptions of significant items (who made a sword or shield, how it was decorated, who
owned it from generation to generation)
Simile and Metaphor
Epic simile (a long simile where the image becomes an object of art in its own right as well as serving to
clarify the subject).
Frequent use of epithets ("Aeneas the true"; "rosy-fingered Dawn"; "tall-masted ship")
Use of patronymics (calling son by father's name): "Anchises' son"
Long, formal speeches by important characters
Journey to the underworld
Use of the number three (attempts are made three times, etc.)
Previous episodes in the story are later recounted
Possibilities to Consider in Writing an Epic Poem
Write a brief statement of the poem's purpose before you begin recounting the story - say, to detail your
dog Champ's heroic crusade against backyard birds - followed by an invocation of the Muse.
Give a short, general outline of the action of the poem in the statement of the poem's purpose.
Invoke the Muse next by first praising her, then by asking her to aid you in the writing of your poem. The
Muse of epic poetry was Calliope, but you can also invoke Thalia (Muse of comedy) or Melpomene (Muse
of tragedy).
Choose a particularly heroic event in the hero's life at which to start. This will be the main action of your
Begin the narrative by employing "in medias res" or "framework" narrative. Literally meaning "into the
midst of things," this is a poetic convention in which the narrative begins in the middle of the main action
and earlier events are retold through flashbacks. The past actions thus form a framework centering around
the main action.
Confront your hero with dangerous monsters and other incredible adventures. Include vivid and explicit
descriptions of warfare (particularly weapons and combat).
Use the supernatural to get your protagonist out of tough situations. If your hero or heroine is in a no-win
situation, simply send in a god or goddess to help out at the last moment.
When I assess your work, I will ask the following questions:
1. What is the challenge that the hero is facing? Is it a true challenge
of your generation? What suggestions do you have?
2. Who is the hero and what heroic traits are emphasized? Loyalty,
bravery, honesty, etc… How could the writer demonstrate those
traits more clearly?
3. How is the hero and situation described? Is there enough
descriptive language so that the reader can see and feel the
experience? What suggestions do you have?
4. Where could the writer use Epithets? This is a short phrase applied
repeatedly to a person or thing in The Odyssey. “bright-eyed
Athene” or “sandy Pylos” or “wise Odysseus” or “brave
5. Where could the writer use more imagery, similes, or metaphors?
Simile example: “then he advanced like a mountain lion.
Metaphor example: The event was clouded over by protests.
6. Where could the writer use more aesthetic/artistic vocabulary?
7. What other elements of epic poetry could the writer incorporate
into their poem?