Ancient Epic

Ancient Epic

Ancient Epic

Ancient Epic


Ancient Epic offers a comprehensive and accessible introduction to six of the greatest ancient epics - Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Vergil's Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and Apollonius of Rhodes' Agonautica.
  • Provides an accessible introduction to the ancient epic
  • Offers interpretive analyses of poems within a comprehensive historical context
  • Includes a detailed timeline, suggestions for further readings, and an appendix of the Olympian gods and their Akkadian counterparts


Why do students compelled to read ancient epics in college classrooms invariably discover that they have learned something valuable? What could a story composed thousands of years ago have to say to us today?

An active-duty Air Force captain who has served four tours in Iraq explains why he intends to tattoo “the wrath of Achilles” in Greek on his right Achilles tendon:

I want to mark the anger on my body for a lot of reasons… I try to imagine
what that Myrmidon [Achilles] must have thought, and his frustration [at]
serving for a king who did not want to listen to his best fighters to learn how
to fight a war
. (Email dated April 20, 2008, to the author)

Iraq Veteran Michael Zacchea, who has been slowly integrating himself back into peacetime society, says,

[Odysseus] resolved his issues by killing all the suitors… really the message is
that I have to make my peace with people who, you know, did not go to Iraq
or insulated [themselves] from the reality of Iraq
. (Interview September 28,
2007 with David Brancchacio for PBS news show, NOW)

Achilles’ angry idealism and Odysseus’ difficult return from war clearly still speak to modern readers in urgent and personal ways.

Searing scenes invite questions about modern life, as when Aeneas’ effort to live only for an imperialist future leads him to hug his son goodbye encased in full armor (Aeneid 12. 432–442). In 1974, John Arthur Hanson, professor of classics and a keen observer of the ideological clash between the generation of the fifties and that of the sixties, saw a parallel between this scene and the “Puritan ethic” backbone of . . .

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