Film and the Classical Epic Tradition
Why is it that some films are called epics? Audiences know that such films will be large-scale, spectacular productions, but does the term have deeper cultural significance? In antiquity, epic was a prestigious genre whose stories ranged from the Trojan War to the founding of Rome, and dealt with important themes including heroism, the gods, military prowess, and spectacle. In Film and the Classical Epic Tradition, Joanna Paul explores the relationship between films set in the ancient world and the classical epic tradition, arguing that there is a meaningful connection between the literary and cinematic genres. This relationship is particularly apparent in films which adapt classical epic texts for the screen, such as Ulysses, Troy, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Jason and the Argonauts. Beginning with an assessment of the films, Paul discusses a variety of themes, such as heroism and kleos, the depiction of the gods, and narrative structure. She then considers a series of case-studies of Hollywood historical epics which further demonstrate the ways in which cinema engages with the themes of classical epic. The relationship between Gladiator and The Fall of the Roman Empire demonstrates the importance of tradition, while the archetypal epic themes of heroism and spectacle are explored through, respectively, Spartacus and Ben-Hur. The concluding chapters look at common tropes surrounding epic, especially focusing on the performance of epic in the ancient and modern worlds, its perceived social role, and the widespread parody of epic in both literature and cinema. Through this careful consideration of how epic can manifest itself in different periods and cultures, we learn how cinema makes a powerful claim to be a modern vehicle for a very ancient tradition.
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1 Surveying the Epic Tradition in Literature and Film
2 Homer on the Silver Screen
3 The Cinematic Argonautica
4 The Dynamics of the Epic Tradition in The Fall of the Roman Empire and Gladiator
Identifying a Cinematic Epic Hero
Spectacle and BenHur
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Achilles adaptation Aeneid ancient epic ancient world antiquity Apollonius appear arena Argonautica Argonauts argued audience Ben-Hur Carry On Cleo chapter characters chariot race cinematic epic classical epic tradition Cleopatra Commodus conﬂict conventions Crassus critics cultural deﬁning deﬁnition depicting Dilios discussion divine earlier ﬁlms epic cinema epic ﬁlm epic genre epic hero epic heroism epic narrative epic performance epic poetry epic tradition epic’s episodes example explore Fall ﬁght ﬁgure Film ﬁlm-makers ﬁlm’s ﬁnal ﬁnd ﬁrst ﬁt ﬁxed Gladiator Gladiator’s gods Greek heroic historical Hollywood epic Homer Homeric epic Ibid identiﬁed Iliad important inﬂuence Jason kleos literary epic literature Medea modern world movie mythological novel Odyssey parody particularly play poem poetry poets production Quo Vadis reading reception reﬂect relationship Ridley Scott role Roman Empire Rome scene screen sense signiﬁcant similar slaves Spartacus speciﬁcally spectacle spectacular Statius story suggest Thebaid theme Trojan War Troy Ulysses Valerius Virgil visual Winkler