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Epic: The Musical and the Integrity and Accessibility of Stories

I recently had an argument with a friend of mine about the musical, Epic. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Epic: The Musical is an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey by Jorge Rivera-Herrans.

Beginning on TikTok in 2021, Rivera-Herrans released the first video on TikTok detailing his plans to create a full musical score based on the story of The Odyssey and has since released the entire first act and part of the second act.

The first act, consisting of 5 separate sagas, includes:

- The Troy Saga

- The Cyclops Saga

- The Ocean Saga

- The Circe Saga

- The Underworld Saga

Each with between 3 to 5 songs apiece, detailing the different sagas within The Odyssey.

Personally? I love it. I think that its an amazing and genius way to introduce classical content to a new audience of people who would otherwise never stumble across it. My friend on the other hand, did not like it and said that it didn’t do the story justice the way that the original did.

However, to that I just have to say…


So, what?

Translation vs Interpretation

If you are a lover of the classics and you live by the poetry of the original lines written by Homer and Shakespeare, then its likely to assume that no recreation of any kind is going to hit the same for you.

And that’s okay.

However, I feel the same way about this sort of “interpretation” as I do with translations of works from one language to another. When I first started watching anime, I was a purist, subtitles only. I felt that he dubs of the shows were silly and distracted from the quality of the content. But slowly, as translators and dubbers began to realize that languages were fluid entities that required interpretation in addition to direct translation, the dubs got better.

For example: in Japanese, “元気ですか” (genki desu ka) means “how are you?” However, translated directly, it literally means “are you healthy?”

Similarly, when speaking amongst friends, someone might just say “元気” (genki) when asking how someone is doing and translated directly, that means “healthy?”

When translated into English directly with no interpretation or knowledge of original cultural impact of the phrase, it sounds insane. However, taking into account the circumstances in which it was said as well as interpretations of the best possible English equivalent, you might get something more along the lines of, “hey, you good?” or “how you doing?”

Interpretation and Adaptations of Classical Works

In school, I hated reading the classics. Absolutely abhorred it.

It was confusing, there was no reason, in my mind, why storytelling had to be so damn convoluted. I blamed my dislike on the genre as a whole on the poetic nature of the stories themselves, however, this didn’t make a whole lot of sense as I was a big fan of lyricism and metaphors in musical storytelling.

As I got older, I realized that my hangup wasn’t about the metaphorical nature of the text itself, but rather the inadequate translation to a version of English that I was most familiar with.

Old English and Early Modern English are not the same as Modern English and even works by Shakespeare, which were originally written in English are confusing to the modern day reader.

Sure, you could say that by interpreting a piece into Modern English, you lose a portion of the original beauty and context, however the same could be said for any translation from one language to another.

One example of how this would look is the “Romeo and Juliet” Shakescleare translation from

CAPULET (Original)

But Montague is bound as well as I,

In penalty alike, And ‘tis not hard, I think,

For men so old as we to keep the peace.

CAPULET (Modern English)

Montague has sworn the same oath as I have, and is

bound by the same penalty. I don’t think it should

be hard for men as old as us to remain peaceful.

You do lose the iambic pentameter in the translation and people may argue that it doesn’t sound as pretty in Modern English, but it is far more easy to understand. Then, once you have a grasp on what is actually being said, you can go back to the original and read it, not having to do so much heavy lifting while just trying to enjoy the story.

Epic: The Musical

Epic: The Musical has allowed me to understand and really appreciate the stories that Homer was trying to write. It took me, probably 5 or 6 tries in school to get through the Odyssey and while I memorized what I needed to pass the tests, I couldn’t tell you what the plot was.

However, after just one listen to the first act of Epic: The Musical, now I can. Now, I’m excited about the story. Now, I understand why people like these epics so much and I’m tempted to even go back and re-read the original, knowing what I know now.

Why is that a bad thing?

Alexander and Historical Romance Novels

I write similarly in my historical romance novels.

Did Alexander the Great say “fuck”?

No, of course not. But do people reading nowadays understand the implications and undertones of the word when I use it in my writing?

Of course they do.

Like all interpretations and adaptations, historical romance novels are created to tell a story. Personally, I think that writing in a way that readers, now, can relate to helps with connection to the characters and investment in the grand love story.

Accessibility of the Classics

I think that it’s great if you want to read the classics “as is”, or Hell, even read them in their original language, on the original parchment that it was written on, but don’t look down on people who want to make these amazing stories more accessible to a wider variety of readers.

I will die on the hill that the practice of insisting that people either read the original or don’t read it at all is based in classist ideology and has no place in modern day art.

Let people enjoy stories.

Let people fall in love with characters and hyperfixate on mythology because they became obsessed with a song that could easily be found in a Broadway musical.

Because who cares?

I think that creating something that can be loved by a wide variety of people is a beautiful thing and that art should never be subject to gatekeeping.

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