Blog Post #2: The History of Changes

Mostly what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks is a lot of reading. I’ve read 10 chapters so far of The Cambridge Companion to The Epic, which is turning out to be a super helpful source. Each chapter is an essay written by a different scholar who focuses in on a different era in the evolution of the epic. Some chapters talk about only one epic at a time, while others compare a handful and relate them to the major literary trends going on at the time. The book begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh and covers practically every major epic up to Derek Walcott’s Omeros, a modern epic published as recently as 1990, with an extra chapter on the topic of epics in translation. I’m glad that I started this book early in my research, because I now feel like I have a much more solid base of understanding of the epic genre as a whole.

In addition to reading the Cambridge Companion, I’m in the middle of reading two epics as well. I’m reading both Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene  and Virgil’s Aeneid. One way that I’ve found to deal with the overwhelming enormity of the epic is to tackle a couple at a time. That way I can read one for a couple hours, and then switch to something else if I start to feel overwhelmed. Probably not a strategy that would work for everyone, but it works for me!

I haven’t only been reading, though. I’ve also been thinking about how I ultimately want to structure my paper. This has been the major question that has plagued my research from the beginning and will probably continue to plague me as I write several drafts of my paper. Right now, my biggest struggle is trying to figure out how to make my paper different from the Cambridge Companion. So much has already been written on the topic of epics, that it’s hard to feel like I have anything new to say. I’m hoping as I continue to read more sources, though, this will feel like less of a problem.

But back to the question of what exactly do I want to write about. Let’s start with the question—what don’t I want to write about? I don’t want to spend my whole paper trying to define what an epic is. Writers and critics have been trying to do this for centuries, laying out qualifications and rules or even simple descriptions. But the interesting thing is, most of the greatest epics were those that broke the established rules. I want to address the difficulty of defining the epic and the ways that accepted definitions have grown and changed over the centuries. This line of thought brought me to a realization about the focus of my paper: Change. Evolution is all about change. How does the epic evolve, and what do these evolutions look like? My current idea about how to organize my paper is to divide it into major periods of change.  Each section will discuss a different era in the history of the epic, and the major innovations and changes to the cultural definitions of epic that took place during those times.

But hey, I could completely change my mind again within the next two weeks. You’ll have to check back and see what progress I’ve made by my next post!


  1. Kari O'Connell says:

    In paragraph 2, you once again refer so eloquently and most succinctly to the Enormity of the Epic. I am looking forward to hearing more about the Epic Evolution of Enormous Literary Entities … and thank you for explaining your work to me … it is awesome that I can be both your mother and student!