Epic Thoughts

August 20. 2014

So I’ve been thinking a lot about epics lately. Oh, right. You can’t see me. I’m wearing my classics major hat right now. (It’s got laurel branches on it. I try not to sit on it, but sometimes I forget where I set it down…) I could blame Lisa for this since she’s the one who suggested I read the Goddess Girls series, but it’s my own nerdiness that takes it to extremes.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read the three classics: The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid. I had to read all of them for multiple classes in college. Plus I read The Odyssey at least once in high school. And being the nerd that I am, I’ve reread them since. (Yes, I’ve read Gilgamesh multiple times, too, but that’s a different story.)

But it wasn’t until I read the first Goddess Girls book (Athena the Brain) that I really started thinking about the three biggies as a whole.

The following is not a digression. It’s going to feel that way at first, but I swear it all ties together.

Do you remember the PBS show Wishbone? My favorite episode is when they did The Aeneid.

You see, The Aeneid is really just a rip-off of The Odyssey and not even a very good one at that. It is definitely not my favorite. By a long shot. All of the exciting parts in The Odyssey appear as side notes in The Aeneid. It consists of Aeneas avoiding all of the traps that befell Odysseus and make the earlier epic exciting.

So I found Wishbone’s take on The Aeneid to be delightful. It focuses on how the gods spend their time interfering in the lives of humans. The gods are depicted standing around a big map of the Mediterranean, playing with little figurines representing the human characters.

Athena the Brain takes a similar tack. In Hero-ology class, each student is responsible for leading one hero on a question. Athena, of course, is in charge of Odysseus. The second day of class, Athena discovers a large map of the world with figures representing all of the heroes. Sound familiar?

Yep, it made me think of Wishbone, too.

The Trojan War ensues with the students interfering with the lives of their heroes in an attempt to achieve the best outcome.

And that made me think about the three great epics in general. After all, The Iliad is all about how the gods interfere in the course of human events. And Odysseus would have gotten home a lot sooner if it hadn’t been for his bad relationship with Poseidon, and it’s only because of his good relationship with Athena that he makes it home at all.

There’s an overarching theme that I’d never thought about in all of my years of study. The great epics are, overall, about the gods messing with mortals. Saving their lives. Leading to their downfalls. Or one god staying another god’s hand so that the latter can’t intercede when desired.

And all it took to make me think about this was a children’s book about being the new girl in school.

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