These 15 long poems are the core of the western world. I am the proud owner of each of these books in my personal library!
Over the years, I have perused over the greatest long poems of the western world.
15. Piers Plowman by William Langland
Published in 1388 in England, this long poem delved into the true pursuit of being a devout Christian. It is an allegorical long poem written in old Middle English.It is considered one of the three greatest long poems of England during the 1300 to 1400s written in Middle English.
14. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown
This long poem, written in England around the 1390s, is about Sir Gawain, one of the Knights of the Roundtable of King Arthur. This long poem was written in Middle English.In the tale, Sir Gawain accepts a challenge from a mysterious warrior who is completely green, from his clothes and hair to his beard and skin. The “Green Knight” offers to allow anyone to strike him with his axe if the challenger will take a return blow in a year and a day. Gawain accepts, and beheads him in one blow, only to have the Green Knight stand up, pick up his head, and remind Gawain to meet him at the appointed time. The story of Gawain’s struggle to meet the appointment and his adventures along the way demonstrate the spirit of chivalry and loyalty. This long poem is considered the greatest English long poem in England during the 1300s along with Piers Plowman and The Canterbury Tales.
13. Idylls of the King by Lord Alfred Tennyson
This long poem was published in England between 1856 and 1885, is a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892; Poet Laureate from 1850) which retells the legend of King Arthur, his knights, his love for Guinevere and her tragic betrayal of him, following the rise and fall of Arthur and his kingdom. The whole work recounts Arthur’s attempt and failure to lift up mankind and create a perfect kingdom, from his coming to power to his death at the hands of the traitor Mordred. Individual poems detail the deeds of various knights, including Lancelot, Geraint, Galahad, and Balin and Balan, and also Merlin and the Lady of the Lake. There is little transition between Idylls, but the central figure of Arthur links all the stories.
12. Perceval, The Story of the Grail by Chretian de Troyes
Published in France in 1192, this long poem, written in French, was about Perceval, one of the twelve knights of the Roundtable of King Arthur. The long poem is the earliest piece of literature that talks about the quest for the Holy Grail. This long poem’s influence was far-reaching, introducing the legend of the Holy Grail in the western world.
11. The Epic of Gilgamesh by Unknown
This long poem was written around 700 BC (about 2,700 years ago) in Iraq. The author is unknown. The written language was called Sumerian, an ancient Arab Iraqi dialect. The long ancient Iraqi poem was about the legendary ancient Iraqi king, Gilgamesh. The essential story revolves around the relationship between Gilgamesh, who has become distracted and disheartened by his rule, and a friend, Enkidu, who is half-wild and who undertakes dangerous quests with Gilgamesh. Much of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh’s thoughts of loss following Enkidu’s death. It is about their becoming human together, and has a high emphasis on immortality. A large portion of the poem illustrates Gilgamesh’s search for immortality after Enkidu’s death.
10. Beowulf by Unknown
This epic poem was published in England either between the years 800 AD and 1000 AD (between 1,000 and 1,400 years ago) by an unknown author. It is considered the first great English long poem in English literature. The original manuscript was written in very early English of the German dialect called Anglo-Saxon. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a late cousin of this long poem about 400 to 500 years later. The long poem is about the great hero, Beowulf, king of the Geats, a German tribe from Denmark and Sweden. Beowulf is famous for killing 3 different mythic monsters: 1) Grendel 2) Grendel’s mother 3) a mysterious unnamed dragon. Beowulf has a magical sword called Hrunting, just like King Arthur has a magical sword called Excalibur.
9. On The Nature of Things by Lucretius
This epic poem is about the way the universe operates according to natural laws. It was the earliest long poem glorifying the wonders of astrophysics. The physics that the Roman poet Lucretius wrote about in this poem followed the philosophy of the early Greek man named Epicurus, who believed in the pleasures and harmony of living life. Lucretius argued in his long poem that argued (among many things) that everything in the universe is composed of tiny atoms moving about in an infinite void, rather than being the creation of deities as was common belief. The poem was published in 50 BC (2,059 years ago).
8. The Aeneid by Virgil
This epic poem was published in 19 BC (2,028 years go), just about 30 years after Lucretius published On The Nature of Things. This epic poem praised the Roman Emperor Augustus as the high and best ruler of the Roman Empire. Virgil wrote the poem depicting how the main antagonist, Aeneas, a Trogan, helped discover the Roman Empire after escaping the fall of his Trogan kingdom, Troy, by the Greeks.
7. The Iliad by Homer
Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus! One of the three greatest Greek warriors who fought the Trogans and their kingdom Troy. It started out as a forbidden love story between the Greek woman Helen and the Trogan man Paris. They fell in love. Helen afer marriage became the infamous “Helen of Troy” who launched the 1000 ships of the angry Greeks to claim her back to her own people. What follows is a battle of Greeks versus Trogans, with the Trogans losing, but Achilles, the best Greek warrior, dead! Two young men venture on a long journey: 1) The Trogan Aeneas, to discover the Roman Empire and 2) the Greek Odysseus to come back to the kingdom of Ithaca to his family. The long poem was written between 700 and 600 BC (2,709 to 2,609 years ago).
6. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
The great epic poem was published in 1596 (423 years ago) to glorify the British Queen, Queen Elizabeth the first. The poem was written to glorify the British Empire at the time. The knights of King Arthur’s Roundtable are the main characters who have the mission to protect Gloriana, the Queen of Fairieland. It was left unfinished by Edmund Spenser.
5. Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained by John Milton
John Miltons’s masterpiece was published in 1667 (342 years ago) in London, England. The long poem emphazised the loss of innocence of humanity and the fallen angel, Lucifer. Milton’s long poem was the essence of what it was like to be human in the context of a supreme divine intelligence of the universe and Her/His divine schemes.
4. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The timeless classic was published in 1400 (609 years ago) in London, England. Chaucer’s classic about all the social classes of the British people. As they travel on horseback from Southwork to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, each pilgrim (29 in all) tells 2 tales on the roundtrip journey. But Chaucer left the tales unfinished due to his untimely death in 1400.
3. Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Published in 1321 (681 years ago) in Italy. It was subdivided into 3 main parts: The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso. Over 14,000 verses long, this epic poem was written in the first person by Dante Alighieri as the main character traveling through the afterlife realms. He wrote the long poem while in prison for being framed by corrupt Italian officials. The long poem, thus, was a satire piece to protest the injustice done on him and on Italian society at the time. He subsequently hid the manuscript in the walls of the prison where he was held captive.
2. The Odyssey by Homer
POLYPHEMUS THE CYCLOPS
The best journey myth epic poem of all time! Odysseus is the journey man who must come home to Ithaca to save his kingdom from corrupt suitors who want to conquor his realm! His wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus are waiting in agony for his arrival. But Odysseus must undergo a challenging journey of many obstacles to overcome, especially the ferocious Polyphemus the cyclops! Odysseus finally arrives home a more wise and powerful man and saves his kingdom.
1. The Metamorphoses by Ovid
This is my favorite long epic poem. Ovid was a genius! His detailed explanations of transformation sequences was very vivid! A masterpiece that influenced Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Edmuns Spenser’s The Faerie Queene,Dante Aligheri’s The Divine Comedy, and my works, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.
HAIL TO THE GREATEST EPIC POET OF THE WESTERN WORLD: OVID!!!!