Dana Gioa on Epic

No epic survived the welter of history unless both its language and story were unforgettable. From a plot posterity demands both immediate pleasure and enduring moral significance. An epic narrative must vividly and unforgettably embody the central values of a civilization — be they military valor or spiritual redemption. Only a few poets at a few fortunate points in history had met this challenge successfully. To understand these poems, [Robert] Fitzgerald insisted, one not only needed to study the cultures and literary traditions which created them. One also needed to measure them against life. The ultimate measure of Homer, Virgil, and Dante’s greatness was that their poems taught one a great deal about life, and that life, in turn, illuminated them.

— Dana Gioa, from his essay “Learning from Robert Fitzgerald”, in The Hudson Review vol. LI, No. 1, Spring 1998

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