Monday, 2 July 2012

Epics, Fantasy and Epic Fantasy: Origins and Analysis of Mythical Monsters

Epic poetry can be traced right back to its roots in the oral tradition. The epic of Gilgamesh is considered to be the oldest known epic poem to date, and over the centuries more and more have been discovered. Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad are probably the most famous examples, as not many people have heard of the Hávamál or Völuspá, two epic poems from the Ásatrú sacred text, The Poetic Edda. Within these epic poems can be found monsters of mythical proportions: Cyclopes, Hydras, werewolves...

In his documentary, Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters, Tom Holland takes us on a journey where we learn the influence prehistoric fossils had on local storytelling. It is easy to forget that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth because we cannot go to the local pet shop and buy a miniaturised tyrannosaurus rex, nor can we see them in our parks or zoos. The origins of land, air and water-dragons, like the Lerneaen Hydra who was offered Andromeda as a sacrifice, can be credited to the plesiosaur. The structure of the plesiosaur offers its flippers, explaining why modern writers and artists illustrate their dragons with glorious wings, basing their art on the Chinese literature without acknowledging it. Giant elephant skulls found in the Mediterranean by the ancient Greeks helped to spur the myth of the Cyclops, a man-eating giant. The anatomy of the elephant skull is simple: the huge nasal cavity where the trunk used to be was mistaken for an over-sized eye-socket, and the immense size of the skull itself would have had a devastating impact on the puny Greeks who discovered it. As a result, stories were told of epic heroes who would later be recorded by various poets.

My personal favourite wolf lore lies in Scandinavia. The two sky-wolves who both pull and chase the Sun and Moon – Hati and Skoll – are trapped in a perpetual state of catch-22: either they destroy their own cargo and lose all meaning, or they continue on a permanent wild goose chase. However, these wolves originate from a beautiful story, and their role is pretty damn apocalyptic: when they catch the Sun and Moon, Ragnarök will begin. Wolves had long been in mythology and epics before the Norse began to sing and write them. In fact, many of what we now refer to as myths remain the basis of several Odinic belief systems. The origins of these wolves can be found in the need to explain the natural world: by creating reason for the wolves to be in their respective pictures, the epics became a tool for education and worship.


  1. great post! i wish the font were bigger though. my eyes are not as good as it used to be -getting younger and all lol!

  2. I've edited it so it should be a larger font now :)

  3. very very great post love it so much <3<3<3