Film and the Classical Epic Tradition

Film and the Classical Epic Tradition

Hardback Classical Presences

By (author) Joanna Paul


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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Format: Hardback | 352 pages
  • Dimensions: 145mm x 218mm x 28mm | 567g
  • Publication date: 5 May 2013
  • Publication City/Country: Oxford
  • ISBN 10: 0199542929
  • ISBN 13: 9780199542925
  • Illustrations note: 7 in-text illustrations
  • Sales rank: 1,123,277

Product description

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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Author information

Joanna Paul is a Lecturer in Classical Studies at The Open University. Her main research interests are in cinematic receptions of antiquity, but she also works on other areas of classical reception studies, and has published on a range of topics, including receptions of Pompeii and the history of Latin language pedagogy.

Review quote

Film and the Classical Epic Tradition ranges widely, but remains a coherent, well-organized read. The argumentation is careful, the editing is excellent, and the writing clear. All in all, this book is an important asset for teaching and scholarship. Sean Easton, The Classical Journal

Table of contents

PREFACE ; LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS ; 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 ; 5. Spartacus: Identifying a Cinematic Epic Hero ; 6. 'The Biggest Epic Yet': Spectacle and Ben-Hur ; 7. Epic Audiences ; 8. 'Makes Ben-Hur look like an epic': Cinematic Parody and the Classical Epic Tradition ; BIBLIOGRAPHY ; INDEX