Since the time of Homer, the epic has commonly been regarded as the acme of poetic art and the highest expression of human actions. Epic began as long narrative poetry, oral and then literary. Oral epic, such as the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey and the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, commonly features heroic and supernatural events, dangerous journeys and displays of physical prowess. As literary epic developed, so these features were subsumed in and modified by an ideal view of the civilization that produced them. Imperial Rome called on Virgil to follow in Homer’s footsteps. Homer’s Iliad had narrated the fall of Troy from the Greek point of view; Virgil’s Aeneid contains a tragic version of the same subject within its larger narrative of the establishment of Rome by the exiled Aeneas. These are the classical epics of nationalism and militarism.
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