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Epic Poetry


This assignment asks students to review the history and existing information about an ancient local civilization that they will explore in class or from the supporting documents provided here. Drawing on the knowledge of the World History they have studied this year, students will write an epic poem about their selected indigenous civilization following the format of traditional epic poems such as the Greek works The Illiad and The Odyssey. Students will then share their poem through group readings.


Creation Myth
Epic Poem
In Medias Res

You will need:
Lesson plan length: 2 – 3 weeks.
Information on ancient local indigenous culture.
Presentation tools depending upon class capabilities.
Low tech: poster board for each group to write out poem for display in classroom.
High tech: computer assisted PowerPoint presentations to potentially post on the classroom website.

Initially, instructors play a directive role in going over the reading and glossary terms. Do not have students author ‘creation legends’ of different groups; rather, follow the established creation myth for the specific group when incorporating the “Epic Poem” lesson plan. Instructors should evaluate the enclosed resources and determine the relevancy of the samples to their students. Resources include guides, tour books, history books, and even guest speakers who may come in to discuss the importance of a place in the community. Instructors should consider integrating a local tribe’s history and sources if they are available.

Lesson Hypothesis: This lesson should be placed within the class’s examination of Ancient World History and Geography. For example, what parallels may be found between Ancient Egyptian and Ancient American societies? Are there similar sources for different groups across the globe? What are the differences between civilizations? What is the role of the oral tradition in passing history down from generation to generation?

goals & objectives

In completing this lesson, successful students will:

  • Define and understand the glossary terms included.
  • Examine local ancient civilizations.
  • Assess how the local environment and geography played an important role in the lives of the region’s indigenous populations.
  • Evaluate various aspects of daily life in multiple, autonomous societies over history.
  • Determine shared experiences between numerous cultures of both the past and the present.
  • Explain how major events are related to one another in time.
  • Construct various timelines of key events, people, and periods of the historical era being studied.
  • Use a variety of maps and documents to identify physical and cultural features of neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries and to explain the historical migration of people, expansion and disintegration of empires, and the growth of economic systems.
  • Frame questions that can be answered by historical study and research.
  • Distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, essential from incidental information, and verifiable from unverifiable information in historical narratives and stories.
  • Assess the credibility of primary and secondary sources and draw sound conclusions from them.
  • Detect the different historical points of view on historical events and determine the context in which the historical statements are made (the questions asked, sources used, author’s perspectives).
  • Explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in a matrix of time and place.
  • Understand and distinguish cause, effect, sequence, and correlation in historical events, including the long- and short-term causal relations.
  • Explain the sources of historical continuity and how the combination of ideas and events explains the emergence of new patterns.
  • Become familiar with an ancient civilization in class discussion and/or by visiting the library or a local museum related to a particular group.
  • Learn the format of an epic poem, the definition of a creation myth, the importance of this story to a community, and the concept of in medias res.
  • Learn the cosmology or creation myth of an ancient Native American tribe.
  • Explore how non-literate groups communicate across ancient civilizations. Consider how oral traditions in storytelling have been one of the primary ways people have learned about the past, particularly for Native American Indians.
  • Write an epic poem.
  • Share the poem with the class and consider how sharing the poem out loud alters its reading.

the lesson

Instructors should begin by introducing the assignment and going over glossary terms. Instructors should refer to epic poems that students may have covered in class and briefly evaluate them. Epic poems are relevant for the exploration of history in that they structurally center upon the past, using the convention of In Medias Res: this is Latin for “in the middle of.”

Students should begin the poem in the middle of an important historic event or creation myth, a supernatural story or explanation that describes the beginnings of humanity, earth, life, and the universe. Epic poems use this poetic convention and have earlier events retold throughout the poem in flashbacks. The past is the framework, centering on the initial main action. Epic poems begin with a brief statement on the poem's purpose that outlines the action of the poem. Epic poems then begin telling the story.

Next, instructors should introduce information on the cosmology of an ancient local Indian tribe or refer back to information already covered in class.

Students will then begin working on an epic poem that integrates this history. Students should choose a particularly important event in the hero or heroine's life at which to start. This event will be the main action of the poem. Students should have the main hero/heroine perform ‘epic’ events, such as creating the earth. Epic poems use vivid description while following the known details about this ancient civilization.

Example using the 1969 Landing on the Moon

“Baby Steps”
When his boot touched the lunar crust,
Not a sound was heard throughout the depths of Space.
And though a hot blaze of jet fuel
propelled Apollo 11 to this spot
where the Sun beams as bright as on Earth.
It is cold here.
Neil Armstrong did it first.
A flag is there to mark the spot in the human race to the moon.
The years of preparation,
of hopes & Presidential rhetoric
Are achieved in one small step.

Sharing: Students should share completed poems with the class.

Ask theclass what they learned about the process of writing an epic poem based on an ancient group and presenting the poem to the class.
Did they enjoy it?
How does this activity make history live on? For example, does it contribute to the understanding of a contemporary tribe profiled in the epic poem?
What other information might help in writing an epic poem for an ancient local tribe?
Suggestions for the future?

case studies

"The Real Ladies of LA: Women of Strength and Integrity"