In the Aeneid, the hero of the Trojan War embarks on a seven-year sea voyage in search of a new city, which is eventually Rome. The poem begins with an expected invocation to the Muses that Virgil uses to outline the theme of the story and give his readers a picture of coming events:
“Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labours, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok’d, and whence her hate;
For what offence the Queen of Heav’n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv’d his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos’d to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav’nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?”
Following the invocation, Virgil sets the background of the tale, shows the intervention by the gods, relates prophecies to be fulfilled, and introduces main characters. Aeneas and his Trojan Fleet are forced to wander for many years and through many trials and tribulations. Finally, the call to adventure arrives. The author provides flashbacks to events leading up to the moment when Aeneas is shipwrecked near Carthage. It is at this point the Aeneid begins as an epic journey.
An epic poem is written in a grandiose style containing long verse narrative. They usually focus on a heroic figure with unusual bravery and courage. The epic or heroic poem generally relates to a specific society. Traditional epics are derived from oral poems passed down through generations. Literary epics, like Virgil’s Aeneid, are constructed in the same way as traditional forms, but are written by individual authors.
Literary epics contain certain common features. For example, the heroic figure about which the poem is written is usually a figure of great importance. The hero demonstrates extraordinary valor in battles set on a large scale. Often, gods and other supernatural beings play an active role in the action of the story.
Epic poetry does adhere to certain conventions that identify the works in contrast to other poetic writings. First, narrators begin by stating the purpose or theme of the hero’s adventure and by invoking a Muse, god, or spirit to give inspiration to the hero. Second, the story begins in the middle of the action, which is known as in medias res or “in the middle of things” in Latin. Third, the main characters are usually formally introduced.