Many authors use mock-epic conventions when writing poetry. Mock-epic convention, by definition, is a type of satire that treats petty human occurrences as if they were extraordinary or heroic. Mock-epics often will be parodies of serious classical epics, but in a more humorous way. Alexander Pope’s mock-epic poem, The Rape of the Lock, is one of the best known examples of the use of characteristics of epic conventions and the use of gods and goddess from Greek mythology.
Pope’s poem, The Rape of the Lock, written in 1712 to 1717 is a heroi-classical poem, which takes place in London , and validates societies failure to laugh at things in life that do not matter, such as, a lock of hair. This poem was written and revised several time, each time more specific parallels to the classical epics. There are several precise characteristics that epic conventions will convey. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics states, that an “Epic often focuses on a hero, sometimes semi-divine, who performs difficult and virtuous deeds; it frequently involves the interaction between humans and gods” (1).
Pope refers to the Iliad and the Odyssey in, The Rape of the Lock, which shows his focus on human interaction with the gods. Characteristics of epic conventions include: an invocation to a muse; division of the poem into books or cantos; description of a battle; description of heroic deeds; an account of a sea voyage; participation of machinery or spirits and a presentation of an underworld. Pope include all of these characteristics in this satirical parody of social vanity and how high society over exaggerates small trivial things that happen in there lives.
Pope starts, The Rape of the Lock, naming his good friend, John Caryll, as the muse. John Caryll asked Pope to write a story that would poke fun at a real-life event between two high society families and the cutting of a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor’s hair by Lord Petre. Pope divided the poem into Cantos to show just how petty the event really was. In (Cantos 1), Pope’s quote “Here files of pins extend their shining rows, / Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billets-doux. New awful beauty puts on all its arms”, is a demonstration of a goddess (Belinda), preparing for battle, by putting on her make-up and fixing here hair for her journey down the Thames river (137-139). Cantos 2 reveals to the audience a vivid look at Belinda’s voyage down the Thames River and compares it to Cleopatra’s voyage up the Nile with Pope’s quote, “Launched on the bosom of the silver Thames” (4). Pope further uses mystical spirits as supernatural entities, such as, sprites, sylphs, and gnomes to guard over Belinda.
The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics states that an epic convention demonstrates: Recurrent narrative features including formal combat between warriors, prefaced by an exchange of boasts, accounts of epic games or tournaments, and fabulous adventures, sometimes with supernatural overtones and often involving display of superior strength or cunning. Pope uses all of these features in his poem, The Rape of the Lock.
From card games that serve as battle to sprites that protect Belinda on a voyage down the Thames River. Pope’s reference to Achilles and Patrolus in Homer’s Iliad, he writes in (Cantos 4), “For ever cursed be this detested day”, to compare the cutting of Belinda’s lock to Achilles’ lament for his slain friend Patrolus (147). He uses sprites who act as heroes to protect Belinda from here pain with the loss of a lock of hair and to reveal an underworld as place where remedies for Belinda’s pain can be found. He cleverly brings another character, a nymph named Clarissa to give a speech that points out the moral of the poem, How vain are all these glories, ill our pains, Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains: That men may say, when we the front box grace, Behold the first in virtue as in face! (Cantos 5 15-18) The final resolution of the conflict, and the immortalization of the lock of hair, represents an interesting parallel to reality.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, claims that, “The epic, which makes great demands on a poet’s knowledge and skill, has been deemed the most ambitious of poetic forms” (1). One effective strategy Pope uses is heroic couplets, which further emphasizes on the silliness of the feud between the two families Alexander Pope’s satirical parody and use of the epic convention makes the poem The Rape of the Lock , one of the most famous mock epics of all time.