19 Epic Terms to Know from Homeric Epic

Technical Terms to Watch Out for When Reading Greek or Latin Epic Poetry

The Goddess Nemesis. Clipart.com

The following terms or concepts help characterize epic poetry. Try to find them when you read the Iliad, Odyssey, or Aeneid.

  1. Aidos: shame, can range from a sense of respect to disgrace
  2. Aition: cause, origin
  3. Anthropomorphism: Literally, turning into a human being. Gods and goddesses are anthropomorphized when they take on human qualities
  4. Arete: virtue, excellence
  5. Aristeia: a warrior's prowess or excellence; a scene in battle where the warrior finds his (or her) finest moment
  6. Ate: blindness, madness, or folly that the gods may impose with or without the fault of the human.
  7. Dactylic Hexameter: the meter of epic has 6 dactylic feet in a line. A dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short. In English, this meter winds up sounding sing-songy. Daktylos is a word for a finger, which, with its 3 phalanges, is like a finger.
  8. Dolos: trickery
  9. Geras: a gift of honor
  10. In medias res into the middle of things, the epic story begins in the middle of things and reveals the past with narratives and flashbacks
  11. Invocation: at the start of epic, the poet calls upon the Goddess or Muse. The poet either believes or adopts the stance that the poem couldn't be composed without divine inspiration.
  12. Kleos: fame, especially immortal, for a deed. From a word for that which is heard, kleos is renown. Kleos can also refer to praise poetry.
    See Reading Epic: an Introduction to the Ancient Narratives," by Peter Toohey
  13. Moira: portion, share, lot in life, destiny
  14. Nemesis: righteous indignation
  15. Nostoi: (singular: nostos) return voyages
  16. Penthos: grief, suffering
  17. Timē: honor, should be proportionate to arete
  18. Xenia (Xeinia): bond of guest-friendship (xenos/xeinos: host/guest)
  19. Personification: treating an abstract or inanimate object as if it were living
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Gill, N.S. "19 Epic Terms to Know from Homeric Epic." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/epic-terms-learned-from-homeric-epic-119092. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). 19 Epic Terms to Know from Homeric Epic. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/epic-terms-learned-from-homeric-epic-119092 Gill, N.S. "19 Epic Terms to Know from Homeric Epic." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/epic-terms-learned-from-homeric-epic-119092 (accessed March 31, 2023).