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Our Daily Beard’s Top 5 Epic Fails

April 22, 2010

The concept of the “epic fail” is getting a lot of online play these days, and the more I see that phrase used, the more I’m convinced that no one understands what it actually means. It’s distressing. Without further ado, therefore, you are invited to check out Our Daily Beard’s Top 5 epic fails.

5. The suitors’ attempts to string the bow. In Book XXI of Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope sets up a contest whereby each suitor must try to string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through the handles of some archaic axes that apparently have holes in their handles, or something. Details are unclear, and if you want to read reams of scholarly bombast about the axe contest and how ingenious, impossible, symbolic, Near-Eastern, and/or Knossian it is, you definitely can. Penelope says she’ll marry whoever pulls off the Festivus-like feats of strength. None of the suitors are able do it. Odysseus bursts in, strings his bow, and fires it through the axes. Then the suitors are slaughtered without mercy. EPIC FAIL!

4. Pompey’s trip to Egypt. Lucan’s Pharsalia, or Bellum Civile, is a (thankfully) rare epic in its favouring of historical over mythological material. It is a gory, bloody mess of a poem from start to finish. Red rivers, everyone getting disemboweled, Cato the Stoic with his depressing indifference to human emotions, and so on. So in one scene, Cn. Pompeius nostra-miseria-tu-es-Magnus gets in a ship with his wife and kids and heads to Egypt. (If you’re interested in the Caesar-Brutus-Antony situation and the post-assassination chaos, don’t bother reading Lucan–he’s terrible. Rent the Rome DVDs instead. Way better.) At King Ptolemy’s behest, some false friends of Pompey decapitate him as soon as he disembarks from his ship. His head is presented to Caesar. The icing on the cake: this all takes place the day after Pompey’s 58th birthday. EPIC FAIL!

3. Aeneas and Dido’s relationship. Any reader of Virgil’s Aeneid can tell as soon as these two get together that it’s not going to work out. We’ve all been in a situation like theirs, the playthings of an intense but impossible passion that from minute one we know damn well will be fun for maybe like a week before it takes a nosedive and winds up as messy and depressing as Lucan’s Pharsalia. We don’t, and can’t, break it off; nay, we invariably and inevitably stick it out for as long as it takes to destroy us slowly from the inside. The lesson is twofold: (a) humans are ridiculous, and (ii) the gods are fucking with us almost all the time. Dido and Aeneas are doomed from the start; you have Juno and Allecto doing all their freaky voodoo shit beforehand and plus it’s obvious from a narrative standpoint that Aeneas will eventually have to leave so he can go found Lavinium (NOT ROME, I can hear my CLST 355 professor screaming all the way from 1999). The worst part is that the little fucker doesn’t even have the testiculi to tell Dido straight-up what’s happening; he tries to leave behind her back, but of course she finds out at the last minute because of course she does, that’s how it always is with these things and everyone who’s ever tried to pull an Aeneas has done it despite knowing better, and in the Aeneid as in real life the fallout is just tragically awkward. EPIC FAIL!

2. Nonnus’ Dionysiaca. The entire thing. EPIC FAIL!

1. Elpenor’s liquor tolerance. There are some pretty stupid guys in the Odyssey, but this guy is the stupidest. Gets drunk during a party on Circe’s island and passes out on the roof. Okay, no judgment, we all climb things when we’re drunk–trees, fences, streetlight poles, the Olympic Oval, Nose Hill, the Denny Hall bell tower, whatever. It’s pointless to argue with such a deep-seated and innate human instinct. But then the next day when it’s time to leave, Elpenor wakes up and is so hungover and disoriented that he forgets where he is and falls to his death. Crack!! That was onomatopoeia for a neck breaking. Elpenor’s friends leave the island without even noticing he’s missing, let alone giving him a proper burial. EPIC FAIL!

I feel better now. There are thousands more genuine epic fails just waiting to be discovered by curious readers. In addition to the works mentioned above, feel free to check out Ovid’s Metamorphoses–or, if literary quality is less important to you, Statius’ Thebaid. Modern, decent translations of most of these things are readily available at libraries and used bookstores, and you’ll look super fucking smart on the bus with your nose in an Oxford World’s Classics copy of the Epic [Fail] of Gilgamesh. Happy reading!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 3, 2010 9:34 am

    Ovid’s Orpheus is a good one. So is his douchey Narcissus. Damn shitloads in there.

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