Friday, November 16, 2007


There's a lot of epic going round at the moment. A new Beowulf film opens at the end of this month, and there's also a theatre version of Gilgamesh on in Sydney at the moment. In the last few years there's also been the movie Troy, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was at least epic in scope, if not form.

There's an interesting article in the paper today about myths (Beowulf in particular) and why our culture remains fascinated by them, even after so long. Here are a few excerpts:

Scholars, authors and fans say the poem endures because it is a timeless yarn about brave souls purging peaceful societies of agents of evil...

It seems we just can't let go of Beowulf or it won't let go of us," says Robert Ellwood, professor emeritus of religion at the University of Southern California. "Every time a classic is adapted, some scholars claim it's their providence and others shouldn't mess with it. Some others, however, argue that the more up-to-date a myth is the better."

Ellwood adds: "I tend to agree with [Claude] Levi-Strauss, who said, 'A myth is all of its variants across time and space.' In other words, a myth is for right now; it's a living thing that adapts to different social situations."

I would add another observation, that most epics tend to be about action rather than character, and (generally speaking) action-driven movies are much more appealing to a broad audience than character-driven ones.

I wonder if that's why there hasn't been an English-speaking movie of the Aeneid ever made (as far as I'm aware).

Firstly the Aeneid is largely about the character of Aeneas. Sure, it's full of battles, and there's a bit of a love story thrown in, but what concerns Virgil most is the character of Aeneas, and his transformation.

Secondly, the Aeneid is not a timeless story about good and evil. It's firmly rooted in the history of the first century B.C., and celebrates (in an allegorical manner) the defeat of Antony by Augustus, and his establishment of 'peace'. Civil wars are especially messy, and there's a measure of ambiguity in the Aeneid that reflects this. It's by no means a black and white tale about good and evil.


Selena Belle said...

point of information: in our Ad Urbe Condita II, 26 translation, the word "eo" has been ommitted from the line "missus (est) extemplo [eo] cum omnibus copiis equitum A. Postumius".

It may not mean much, but it just made my sub-par translation make somewhat sense.

[/point of information]


I can only hope that the epic poem makes a comeback. It's my favourite form, but in these days of the soundbite, we're more attuned to Martial than Virgil. Eheu!