We are CLOSING on October 20th. All sales final after September 1st.
 

Epic & Saga

The word epic has been subjected to such wholesale misuse by teenagers and video gamers over the last few years that for many its original glory has been lost, along with its actual meaning. It doesn't refer to doing a sweet jump on your skateboard, pulling a prank on your best friend, or beating everyone in your class on Halo.

An epic is a long tale describing culturally significant events. Originally all epics were verse narratives, and the earliest ones included creation stories, tales of man's origins, anecdotes about the gods, and chronicles of war and conquest. Eventually epics were written in a variety of forms (poetry, prose, film), and shifted away from stories of beginnings to a more contemporary focus. The Russians became particularly good at this latter form, with books like War and Peace, And Quiet Flows the Don, and The Brothers Karamazov ranking not only as great epics, but among the greatest literature.

Epics are, by definition, universal. While each one is culture-specific in its details and conception, each one also attempts to gauge and explain man's nature and the world he's made (and which in turn makes him). Virgil's Aeneid is ostensibly about the creation of Rome, but it goes much deeper; ultimately, it's a meditation on the foundations of political authority and human power.

More culture-specific, sagas are simply prose epics originating in Iceland, Scandinavia, or from among the Germanic tribes. They tend to be even bloodier than most of their counterparts (The Iliad is a notable exception), though often also more Christian. The sagas were written after the Christianization of Northern Europe, and while many pagan ideas persisted, there was a move among the literati to infuse Christian ideas and imagery in their stories, even those that originated before the coming of the first missionaries.

One of the distinguishing elements of epic and saga is each story's scope. Something like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is romance rather than epic because it's so personal; we aren't hearing about earth-shattering or kingdom-defining events, we're getting an intimate look at, and (more importantly), inside a man who is in many ways simply the pawn of kings. Epics, on the other hand, are about the kings themselves, or at least those closest to them, their generals, their advisors, their betrayers.

At the same time, there is a personal element to epics, even the most impersonal ones. The Odyssey is about one man's difficult journey home after years at war. He longs to be reunited with his wife Penelope, and Odysseus/Ulysses faces nearly insurmountable odds to realize that goal. This is the aspect of epic that has led some critics to suggest a novel like Huckleberry Finn can be read as an epic.

However you categorize your favorite novels, epics are the forebears of pretty much any great work of fiction we read today. To present the life of kingdoms through the lives of their heroes was a literary innovation writers haven't been able to abandon since some brilliant Sumerian recorded the adventures of Gilgamesh for posterity. And, in the very spirit of epics themselves, we count ourselves (along with any others who've read it) among the posterity for which he wrote.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

Did you find this review helpful?
43 Items found Print
Aeneid
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Vintage Classics
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeneid
Everyman's Library
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeneid
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$14.40 $8.00 (1 in stock)
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Frederick Rebsamen)
from HarperCollins
Medieval Poetic Epic for 8th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$6.99
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Seamus Heaney)
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Medieval Poetic Epic for 8th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$11.17
Beowulf
Dover Thrift Editions
by Anonymous (translation by R. K. Gordon)
from Dover Publications
Medieval Epic for 8th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$1.75
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Burton Raffel)
from Signet Classics
for 10th grade-adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$3.47
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Seamus Heaney)
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Medieval Poetic Epic for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Douglas Wilson)
from Canon Press
for 7th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$9.80 $5.88 (1 in stock)
Beowulf the Warrior - MP Curriculum Package
by David M. Wright, Ian Serraillier
from Memoria Press
for 8th-9th grade
in Memoria Press Literature & Poetry (Location: B18-00B)
$26.88
Beowulf the Warrior - Student Guide
by David M. Wright
from Memoria Press
for 8th-9th grade
in Memoria Press Literature & Poetry (Location: B18-00B)
Beowulf the Warrior - Teacher Guide
by David M. Wright
from Memoria Press
for 8th-9th grade
in Memoria Press Literature & Poetry (Location: B18-00B)
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary
by Anonymous (translation by J. R. R. Tolkien)
from Houghton Mifflin
for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$19.60
Epic of Gilgamesh
Penguin Classics
by Anonymous (translation by Andrew George)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$9.80 $3.60 (1 in stock)
Epic of Gilgamesh
Penguin Classics
by Anonymous (translation by N. K. Sandars)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$8.40
Fall of Arthur
by J. R. R. Tolkien
from Houghton Mifflin
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Gilgamesh
by Anonymous (translation by David Ferry)
from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Ancient Poetic Epic for 7th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$9.10 $4.80 (3 in stock)
Gilgamesh: A New English Version
by Anonymous (translation by Stephen Mitchell)
1st edition from Free Press
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$11.90
Iliad
Everyman's Library
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$16.10
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Ancient Literature for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$11.20
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Stanley F. Lombardo)
from Hackett Publishing Company
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
Signet Classics
by Homer (translation by W.H.D. Rouse)
from Signet Classics
Ancient Literature for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad of Homer
by Homer (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
from University of Chicago
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$12.00
King Harald's Saga
by Snorri Sturluson
from Penguin Classics
for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$1.75 (5 in stock)
Living Gita
by Anonymous
from Henry Holt and Company
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$3.90 (1 in stock)
Mabinogion
by Anonymous, Jeffrey Gantz
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$9.80
Odyssey
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$11.20
Odyssey
Everyman's Library
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$16.80
Odyssey
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$14.40
Odyssey
by Homer, Robert Fitzgerald
Reissue from Vintage Classics
for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$4.20 (1 in stock)
Odyssey
Signet Classics
by Homer (translation by W.H.D. Rouse)
from Signet Classics
Ancient Literature for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$4.76
Odyssey
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$13.60
Odyssey
by Homer
2nd edition from Wordsworth Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$2.80 (1 in stock)
Odyssey
by Homer (translation by Samuel Butler)
from Barnes & Noble
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$2.40 (1 in stock)
Odyssey & Guide - 2 book set
by Homer
from Vintage Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$8.40 (1 in stock)
Odyssey of Homer
by Homer (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
from HarperCollins
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained
by John Milton
from Signet Classics
for 10th-Adult
in 17th Century Literature (Location: CLT-17C)
$5.57
Saga of Eric Brighteyes
by H. Rider Haggard
1st edition from Leaves of Gold Press
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$29.95
Saga of the Volsungs
by Anonymous, Jesse L. Byock
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$10.50
Song of the Cid
by Anonymous
Dual Language from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$11.90
Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems
by Anonymous
from Oxford University
for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$6.40 (1 in stock)