The list author says: "I was one of those guys who snoozed through The Iliad in high school. I had no interest in epics, and thought they were stuffy and boring. Then, a few years ago, I saw Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf at a local book store. The cover was so cool, I picked it up and started flipping through it. The internal book design was beautiful. Plus, it was a duel language edition. There was just something about it that said, "Buy me. Buy me right now." I suggested Beowulf for my bookclub. Surprisingly, all of the guys voted it in, and all of the guys really liked it. This 900-year old epic was a hit.
Then, a few month's later, I saw a boxed set of Fagle's Homer translations. Again, they were just so beautiful. I turned to the first page of The Iliad, and the words jumped off the page. "Hmmmm," I thought, "maybe I oughta give Homer another try..." I'm so glad I did. Homer was a life-changing read. He raised the bar for my literary standards, and I've been hooked on epics ever since.
So, here is a list of epics that I've read or intend to read.
I've include both poetry and prose in this list. While most epics were originally poems, many have been rendered into English as prose. To provide a comprehensive list of major works, I've included titles in both categories. I hope you find this list helpful."
"Gilgamesh is required reading if you enjoy epics. This ancient story contains an account of the Great Flood that predates the biblical version. This verse version by Stephen Mitchell is lively and accessible."
"This is that boxed set I mentioned in my introduction. The Iliad & the Odyssey are mandatory for any serious reader of epics. Homer was not only a first-rate poet, he was a top-notch story teller. For beginners, try the Fagles or Lombardo translations. If you've already read Homer a few times, then try Fitzgerald."
"This cornerstone of Indian culture began as a 24,000 line story about the struggle for a kingdom in northern India. Over the next 1000 years, it morphed into a sprawling, chaotic jumble over 1,000,000 lines long. Fortunately, most English translations cut out the later additions, leaving us with the core story, which is a real gem. Try the William Buck or Krishna Dharma translations."
"Ramayana is another cornerstone of Indian culture. I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I selected this translation for several reasons: 1) The Amazon reader reviews are unanimous in their praise, 2) It is faithful to original tale."
"This is the Greek epic of Jason and the Argonauts, and their quest for Golden Fleece. While it is well written, there is more travelogue then story here. However, the section on Jason and Medea stealing the fleece is superb."
"This Roman epic is about Aeneas, who flees Troy with his people to settle in Italy and father the founders of Rome. It includes the famous story of the Trojan Horse. This book is challenging, but worth the effort. It is one of my all-time favorites. There are many excellent translations. Try Mandelbaum, Fagles, Lombardo, or Fitzgerald."
"In this epic, Ovid retells the myths that have transformation as a key story element. The myths are Roman, but most of them have Greek origins. This is a key literary source for Dante, Shakespeare, and countless others. The Mandelbaum translation is superb, and a complete joy to read. Highly recommended."
"I haven't read this yet, but it is sitting in my library. After thumbing through it, I have to say it looks excellent. Statius was a major influence on Dante and other Italian epic poets. He is all but forgotten today. I'm not sure why, because the passages I've read are gripping. I'm looking forward to reading it!"
"Quintus wasn't a great poet, but we was a decent story teller. In this epic, he tells many of the Trojan War stories that Homer left out. These are events that precede and follow the events recorded in the Iliad. I read a prose translation called The War at Troy, by Frederick Combellack. I'm looking forward to reading this new verse translation by Alan James."
"This is a prose epic from Ireland, written sometime in the 8th century. It is about a cattle raid that is held off by the hero, Cuchulainn, also known as the Hound of Ulster. While it has its flaws, it also has some really splendid moments and is worthy of any epic lover's attention."
"Seamus Heaney provides us with a masterful verse translation of a rip-roaring tale. Lord of the Rings fans, take note: Tolkien was the first to really point out Beowulf's literary merit. Beowulf also inspired Tolkien's "ring" concept and the Hobbit's dragon-slaying scene. It's a quick, fun read. Highly recommended."
"In your epic quest, be sure to include a few Norse sagas. They are written in prose and tend to be fast-paced, bloody, and to the point. Just the way you like it, right? The Saga of the Volsungs is one of the most famous. You can tell it influenced Tolkien, and it was also Wagner's primary source for his Ring opera cycle."
"This French epic from the Middle Ages is also second-rate, but it is reasonably well-written. It's also crammed with vivid descriptions of battles, blood, gore, and head-cleavings. If you like lots of action and aren't too worried about plot, historical accuracy, or character development, this is the epic for you. I read the Glyn Burgess translation, which is nicely done."
"Don't miss this prose epic, often called "the Icelandic Iliad." It is the story of a fifty-year series of blood feuds and the struggle to contain them within a precarious legal system. This saga is a fast-moving look into the Scandinavian world of 1000 years ago."
"A wonderful verse translation of this German epic. It contains some of Wagner's source material for his Ring opera cycle. As far as literary quality goes, it's second rate. However, it is fast paced and a major national epic."
"Don't miss this little gem. It is one of the best of the medieval epics. Well worth the effort. And Brian Stone's essays provide excellent background info for appreciating the work more fully. Also check out the new translation by Simon Armitage."
"This masterpiece of structure, allegory, and symbolism is the most challenging book I've ever read. At least try to read Inferno. Patient readers who continue reading will find plenty of additional treasures. I read the Ciardi translation. His poetry is excellent, and his notes are indispensable. I also recommend the Mandelbaum translation, based on other things I have read by him."
"I'm wimping out on my Chaucer here by listing a "modernized" version. But I thought I'd get familiar with an "easy" version before I dug in with the original Middle English. Important tip: Read it aloud. That's when you really hear the music. A few of the stories are duds, but the good ones are superb."
"This epic is a parody of medieval romances, and was itself lampooned by Cervantes in Don Quixote. The version I've selected for my list is a critically acclaimed prose translation. If you poke around, you can also find Barbara Reynolds' verse translation, which is now out of print."
"I'm ashamed to say I haven't read this one yet; but naturally, I'm looking forward to it. I selected this edition for my list because of its excellent reviews, its scholarly but unobtrusive footnotes, and its critical essays."
"This unusual national epic of Finland is based on a collection of songs. The songs are very old, and were first compiled as a book in the 1670s. They later gained wider popularity from a collection published in the mid-1800s. I recommend the Magoun translation."
"This mini-epic is about Scottish clan wars during the reign of James V. It can be a bit slow and confusing at times, but the poetry is first-rate and it has several really great scenes. Be sure to get an edition that discusses the historical context and has decent footnotes."
"The saga of an epic hero in a fractured United States, some 400 years in the future. It explores themes of relativism, fanaticism, honor, and personal sacrifice, with elegance and restraint. I admit, a sci-fi epic poem sounds nerdy. But this book is downright inspiring. It is also proof that the epic is not dead and deserves a place in contemporary literature. Don't miss this one!"
"Another contemporary epic by Frederick Turner. Genesis was the first major work of fiction to not only suggest the idea of terraforming Mars, but to also provided a feasible solution for doing so. This erudite book has it all: action, battles, philosophy, the works."
"This is a dramatic retelling of the Odyssey, in blank verse. It is a series of dialogs that boils the Odyssey down to its essence. It's kind of "Homer for beginners," but fast-paced, very well written, and certainly worth reading."