Epic Literature in Modern Drama

I wrote this paper in 2008 for Dr. Sorenson’s World Literature Class at Grayson County College. I submit it to my followers, as I am thinking about a similar project, if I could just find something as gripping as The Odyssey and The Iliad to read. I love classic literature, and am really missing writing like this.

Let me know what you think:

Would epic literature make it on television today? Epic literature exhibits the same characteristics of modern drama. The most commonly watched drama is on television today. Television programs such as soap operas involve the viewer emotionally, the audience is allowed to purge itself of emotions that are not normally accepted by society, and the hero’s fate may change. The same can be said for epic literature.

Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, share these similarities with modern drama pieces today, such as soap operas on day time television. Soap operas have a captivating quality that keeps their audiences tuning in day after day to find out what is going to happen to their favorite characters. The Iliad sets up an enticing storyline that enables the audience to become attached to a character such as Odysseus. So that the audience cannot wait to find out what happens to him in the next story.

Also, The Odyssey keeps the attachment going by introducing characters the audience knew existed in the first episode, but knew little about. As the audience gets to know Odysseus’ family and the hardships they have faced in his absence a relationship is formed between the audience and Odysseus and his family. The audience begins to see how much Odysseus wants to be home and how much he is needed to rid his house of the suitors. Therefore, the audience begins rooting for Odysseus’ return home and the death of the suitors in Book Twenty-two of The Odyssey (Homer 266 – 373).

Just the same, television audiences develop the same type of relationships with the characters of the dramas they watch today. Daytime soap operas are one example of drama where this can be seen as true. Many viewers have particular programs they prefer to watch because of a certain character or story line they have become attached to. Missing one day may mean a loss of important details that are crucial to a character’s life or death in the program. So many audiences feel lost if they missed an episode of their favorite show, just as a reader may feel lost if they had skipped reading one of the books of The Iliad or The Odyssey.

Also a reader of The Odyssey may find themselves hoping for the deaths of the suitors, a feeling not accepted by society. In the case of the suitors, audiences find it acceptable to hope for the deaths of the suitors because of the lack of respect they showed for Telemachus as man of the house and for Odysseus’ house in Book Two of The Odyssey (Homer 52 – 68).

On the same hand, this feeling of extreme hate may be held by audiences of modern drama as well. It is possible for a character in a soap opera to seem evil by their audience. An audience will root for the undoing of the character. Death, failure of a business, or loss of a family member to teach a person a lesson, for example, is not a feeling or wish that society looks fondly upon. A person would not wish these things on a real person, but because the program is fictitious it becomes acceptable to wish bad things on this character because they are so bad to others on the program.

Another characteristic of modern drama is that the heroes fate changes. This characteristic is seen in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. There are several instances where Odysseus should not have made it out of a situation but because of a god’s interference he does. For instance, in Book Ten of The Odyssey when Odysseus went to the home Circe, Hermes gave Odysseus a drug to keep him safe from the spells of Circe (Homer 304 – 320).

Soap operas also have this characteristic; through the interference of an enemy a hero on the program may meet an untimely end. In the same way, an evil character may not die because another character took pity on them. Either situation leaves the audience in shock, and wondering how this could have happened to their favorite or most hated characters. It is this type of plot twist that keeps an audience in suspense, not knowing what will happen next is what makes drama.

It can be argued that because of these likenesses epic literature would make it as modern drama. In fact, epic literature was the dramatic form of entertainment of the time. However, placing epic literature in the same medium as modern drama such as television could prove difficult in terms of the length. Most television programs are thirty minutes to one hour-long. The Iliad and The Odyssey are several hundred pages long. However modern dramas are divided into episodes, in the same fashion that The Iliad and The Odyssey are divided into sections called books. It could be feasible that each book could be made into one episode.

In this form audiences of modern drama are often left hanging at the end of an episode and must wait until the next airing to find out what will happen next. This is true also from book to book in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Readers find themselves enthralled in the story and are unable to stop reading for fear of being close to a resolution to a current conflict. Finding a good stopping point is often hard when reading these two epic stories because there is so much action going on throughout the plot of the stories.

On the other hand there are also similarities in the plots of epic literature and modern drama. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey could be the examples that writers follow to keep their viewers coming back for more. In The Iliad, Achilles kills Hector in Book Twenty-two (Homer 310 – 412) for revenge of Hector killing Achilles beloved friend, Petroclus in Book Sixteen (Homer 858 – 906). This type of revenge killing is relevant in drama today, because sometimes a character just deserves to die because he killed the loved one of the programs hero.

A final characteristic of modern drama and epic literature have in common is relevance to the time. For example fighting a war that the population of a country does not feel is theirs to fight is an event that occurred at Troy and is occurring today. The battle at Troy to get Helen back was looked on disdainfully by the Greeks because they did not feel they should lose their sons and husbands because Menelaus wanted Helen back. Today many audiences in the United States have the opinion that country’s military should not have been sent to fight in Iraq’s civil war. Audiences in the United States could relate to the storylines of The Iliad and The Odyssey because many feel they have sent their sons and husbands to fight a battle that is not theirs to fight in the first place. Families relate to the stories because children of soldiers may experience the same situation as Telemachus in Book Two of The Odyssey did with the suitors wanting to marry his mom, while his father was missing in action (Homer 123 – 142).

It could be said that epic literature is the model on which modern drama is built, since epic literature contains the basic building blocks for keeping an audience involved emotionally, allowing the audience to project feelings that society does not find acceptable, a heroes fate changing, and having a relevance to the time. It is because of these similarities that Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey would make excellent television drama today. Modern drama takes its lessons from epic literature and uses what has been learned in the past to keep today’s audiences captivated and coming back for more.

This paper received an A+, I was well beyond excited for that grade.

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