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Introducing Virgil’s Aeneid
Introducing Virgil’s Aeneid

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1 Epic poetry and the Aeneid

I don’t know what your immediate associations are when you hear the word ‘epic’, but to me, the English word immediately suggests something big and grand. For example, if someone describes a Hollywood film as being an ‘epic’, I’d assume that the film deals with important and world-changing events, perhaps over a prolonged time period, and probably that it goes on for a long time. The idea of theme and scope is also relevant to ancient epic. Epic poems are usually narratives about the great deeds of heroes, often involving war, dangerous journeys, or adventures. They also tend to be long: the Aeneid, for example, is nearly 10,000 lines of verse. In antiquity ‘epic’ suggested a certain type of metrical form, the dactylic hexameter, which is a type of verse particularly suited to telling narratives. Ancient epic also comes with certain other expectations: for example, it tends to be set in the past and deals with the deeds of ancestors. It describes a world in which people were stronger, more impressive, and closer to the gods, and indeed the gods often play an important role in epic poetry.