Tag Archives: Epic

Little Known Literary Terms

Want to analyze literature like a professor or write like a canonized author? I have a secret for you. Being able to analyze or write great works is like a recipe – it’s a combination of things that comes together to make one great meal if done right. What is this recipe?

One part gumption.
One part practice.
One part knowledge.

Mix these three things together, sprinkle liberally with salt, and there you have it – the ability to analyze or write great works. The end.

Oh, wait, I have to write more? Alright. So I can’t help you with gumption. Either you want it and you’ll work for it, or you won’t.

Practice is just setting aside time, turning off Netflix, and reading and writing a lot. A whole lot. More than you think you need to, and doing it every day. And, you know, maybe at the end of five, ten, fifteen years or even a lifetime, you’ll have pumped out some great literature that will be studied for eons to come, and probably more than a few great pieces of work along the way that many will appreciate. Or perhaps you’ll have a huge volume of notes on one great literary piece, like Moby Dick and have studied it from every possible angle, only to compose a book of criticism greater in size than the actual book itself.

And, finally, knowledge. This I can help you with. When I say knowledge, I’m referring to a very specific kind of knowledge. You don’t need to know how to bake a cake or fly a ship to mars, but you do need to know how to recognize different literary devices used in great literary works. Now, we all have some basics that have followed us from our high school classes into adulthood. I’m betting almost everyone knows what an allusion is (or, a reference from within a written work to another work, generally literary in nature, but can be sociological or cultural as well) or onomatopoeia (or, when a word represents and sounds like a sound – think of the word buzz or drip and the way they sound). We can all name the protagonist (or main character) of Harry Potter and other stories, and we can point and say who the antagonist (or character opposing the main character) of the same stories are.

Classic literature, like any works from Shakespeare, Spencer, Sidney (I’m on an S roll, don’t mind me) from the Early Modern Period (also called the Renaissance) from 1558-1603, were taught many rhetoric and literary devices in grade and middle school that many of us entering graduate programs in English haven’t heard of, let alone the general grade and middle school population.

This post is here to drop a little knowledge on you, and when I say a little, I do mean a little. I can’t cover an entire¬†rhetoric course in one post, but I can share some literary terminology I find especially interesting. This is for you, reader that looked at a poem or play or something and went “Oh hey, they’re doing this cool thing with language, I wonder if it has a name?” because it totally does.

Anthropomorphism

Definition: Assigning human characteristics to an animal. Think Aslan from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis or any of the animals from Animal Farm by George Orwell.

What Makes The Epic Epic

We’ve all called something epic – it’s now associated with awesome, big, spectacular – but, as a literary term, the epic means something very specific. Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, the unknown author’s Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself aren’t epics because they’re long pieces of poetry, but rather, because they all share a very specific elements which puts them into the epic category.

The movie Epic and epic poetry have nothing in common, I’m sorry to say.

First, epic poems open with what’s called a in medias res, Latin for “in the midst of things.” Beowulf opens with a kingdom in need of a Grendel extermination. The reader doesn’t start with the birth of Beowulf, but rather we start with a scene ripe for action.

The setting of epics are vast. Think the exact opposite of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which mostly takes place in one room. Epics are epic in part because of the vastness of their settings. The Odyssey spans oceans and continents, for example.

Almost all epics call to a muse to set the tone of the piece of poetry to come.

No, not those muses (I knew your brain would go there). The muses were not five gospel singers – and that’s the gospel truth.