Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563
The hero of Virgil's Aeneid, the Trojan warrior Aeneas, departs from the Trojan War and wanders for seven years in the Mediterranean region because it has been foretold that he and what remain of his people are destined to found a great nation in Italy. He stays briefly in the North African city of Carthage, but his abruptly ended love affair with Queen Dido eventually leads to her suicide. Later, Aeneas travels to Italy where he defeats King Turnus and establishes a settlement along the Tiber River that eventually grows into the city of Rome. The Aeneid is a mythological glorification of the early Roman Empire and of Octavian, the emperor known as Augustus.
An Irish epic tale from the first century BC, The Cattle Raid of Cooley describes an attack by Queen Mebd of Connacht on the kingdom of Ulster in order to steal its prized Brown Bull. Part of the Ulster cycle of legends, it features the Gaelic hero Cuchulain, a youth of great strength whose body and face contort horribly as he enters a rage before each battle. Alone, Cuchulain destroys Mebd's army, defeating one warrior per day until killed by her treachery.
Achilles, the hero of Homer's epic poem the Iliad, refuses to fight for King Agamemnon and the invading Greeks at Troy. Without his strength the war will be lost, and so Achilles's friend Patroclus borrows his armor and shield and joins the battle, but is soon killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Overcome with grief and anger at his friend's death, Achilles and his men, the Myrmidons, join the attack, killing Hector, and bringing victory to the Greeks.
Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1485, The Death of Arthur) describes the adventures of Arthur, legendary king of the Britons. Of mysterious birth, Arthur becomes king after receiving the magical sword, Excalibur, from the supernatural figure of The Lady in the Lake. He later builds a mighty castle and attracts the greatest knights from France and the British Isles to his round table at Camelot. With the help of these warriors and the wizard Merlin, Arthur battles the evil sorceress Morgan Le Fay and his own upstart nephew, Sir Mordred.
Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince (1532) examines the means by which a ruler might consolidate and expand power. Recommending the use of cunning and even treachery, Machiavelli portrays rulership as a science that place kings above ordinary ethical considerations.
The second great classical Indian epic poem is the Ramayana. Probably composed in about the third century BC, it details the life of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu. Attributed to the sage Valmiki—also a character in the poem—the Ramayana recounts Prince Rama's exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya and his rescue of his wife Sita from the demon Ravana. With the help of Hanuman and his army of monkeys, Rama saves Sita, kills the demon, and returns to his home.
The poem "Song of Myself' from nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman's 1855 collection Leaves of Grass celebrates the symbolic unity of all people and places.
Written during approximately the same period as the Mahabharata, the Upanishads contain philosophical meditations on the Hindu conceptions of reality, reincarnation, and Brahman—the universal soul.
The 1989 novel The Great Indian Novel, by Shashi Tharoor, is a funny and entertaining retelling of the basic Mahabharata story, drawing events and characters from twentieth-century Indian life.
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