Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English Composition



First Reader/Committee Chair

Luck, Chad


The timeless, lyrical poem of Ancient Greece, revered for its grand battles, supernatural forces and legendary heroes is a fading memory of a forgotten past. Many critics, scholars, and authors like Theodore Steinberg concur, “. . . “[the] twentieth-century epic” is oxymoronic, the epic died with Milton” (10). Yet, the echoes of the past resound in the present as the characteristics and literary conventions of the Homeric epic are easily found in contemporary genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian fiction. What has emerged is not a repeat of the past, but something different, something new. The influence of science and technology is apparent even to the most relaxed reader. Contemporary writers have adapted forms of technology, communication, and modern science to perform as the traditional literary devices of the epic genre.

In his book, Epic in American Culture, Christopher N. Phillips remarks that ,”Epic did not die with Milton . . . it developed new power and shape. . .” as writers dismissed the traditional formats to allow for artistic growth advancing the use and understanding of epic, “. . . the new insights, literary and cultural history that emerge once synchronic, monolithic definition of form are abandoned-the surprises in the archive of American literary engagements with the epic form are myriad” (4,10). This release of boundaries allowed space to create, one that intersects with specific moments in time and sociocultural influence, allowing the inclusion of modern understanding and experiences. I found a kernel in Catherine Morley’s book, The Quest for Epic, where she examines the influence of the epic on the American novel, and the means with which writers continue to approach and engage epic , “. . . compulsively and consciously appropriated and reinvented aspects of the antique and the modern European epic traditions to advance their own aesthetic designs” (13). Furthering the writer’s vision is only part of the epic’s adaptation, and the formulation of other genres, including sci-fi and fantasy, provide many reference points in its long evolutionary cycle. Why the need for new genres? What did writers have to address to warrant these spaces? Technology was one answer. Technological advancements placed a demand upon writers, stirring the authors to push against canonical boundaries. The cultural importance of the mythology surrounding the epic is infused, and the result is an expanded, (dare I say new?), technology rich, contemporary epic. Same genus, different species.

So, what does this new cutting-edge insertion look like? How does it function? What role does technology play in contemporary figuration's of the epic? How does modern science perform in ancient conventions? Can they maintain the ethos of the traditional Homeric epic? This thesis will investigate through literary scholarship and theory, Homer’s classics, Iliad and The Odyssey, and two contemporary novels, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffett.