Epic Readings

Programming / to stage – Epic

The epic theme, as you know, is very close to my heart.
I find it everywhere in video games.
I find it much less in contemporary performing arts productions.
It’s not that it doesn’t exist – it exists less.

So, as I am wondering what I would like to see on a stage – this strange year has had the advantage of allowing me to wonder about that too – I went to look for the deer – sorry, the epic dimension.
(it’s a stupid joke, the deer, it is a meme from the last Gof of War).

Since the year is strange, I looked for strange and unknown things for myself as well.

If we talk about epic, in general we find: the 2nd world war – the 1st world war – the 2nd world war – the 1st world war – the Vietnam war – the 2nd world war – the 1st world war, you know, don’t you? wait, I’ll tell you about it – the 2nd world war, ah the Russian front, so the Russian front, madam – the Vietnam war – American b****, we don’t even talk about the Indochina war anymore (oh well, sorry… but still, the Légion Etrangère jumping at Dien Bien Phu, that’s pretty impressive).
In short – we’re talking about things that everyone knows and knows and still knows.

Well – we can also look into the wars of the future – and an astronomical quantity of films have already dealt with this, some of them in a remarkable way.

And then? Then, there are some gems that come out of nowhere and are enchantments.
Well, out of nowhere – they come from reading old stuff, put in our mood –

So, I went looking for gems too.
Then here I am, reading the Life of Charles the Great, the one written just after his death – I thought I would find some wonderful pearls.
In truth there are – but in a diamond mine way: it’s a lot of work to get out THE diamond – for the moment, it looks more like a pile of rocks.

So I took : The war against the Vandals, by Procopius.

Procope, I knew its name because it is a very famous café in Paris.
I knew the name of the vandals.
And the subject was less than a line in my memory.

This book tells about the fall of the Roman Empire.
And then, as a mental shock, I promise you, I took a severe one.

I was left with : The Roman Empire collapsed because it was too big and then the barbarians came.
But what a mistake!

This is how the book begins: Procopius gives us the measure of the Roman Empire – but not in meters, feet, things – no, he gives us the measure in days of march.
In detail: from west to east, from north to south, how the Empire was divided into two parts, to have in the four directions as many days of march.
I was beginning to hallucinate.

Right after that, he talks about Attila – saved, Attila I know.
He tells about the battle of the Catalaunic Fields – I’m French, I know, of course, it was in France. Don’t go there, there is nothing left – it is a very disappointing trip.

Catalaunic fields – France – near Suippes & Mourmelon

Attila is beaten during this battle – beaten, but in the Roman way – perfectly well beaten, by a General worthy of the great generals of the Republic. His name was Aetius.
You don’t know his name, do you?

Do you know why?
Because Rome had changed a bit.
When Julius – Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, came back to Rome, they had the right to Triumph.
When Aetius comes back to Rome, he has just saved the whole Empire from the greatest general who ever attacked it – still – Aetius is not welcome.
He is even going to die, this oaf, for having dared to be such a brilliant general.

Learning this, Attila will hurry back to Rome.
The city is fortified – Attila wonders if it’s worth a very long siege.
And then he sees a stork coming out of a rampart – the beast is carrying its young – the ride is long enough to intrigue Attila.

When the last little one is changed from the nest, Attila looks at his commanders and tells them: We stay. This stork wouldn’t have bothered to move her entire brood if the place was safe. The rampart will collapse.
He was right. The rampart collapsed.

From there, Procopius strings together all the stories that led to the complete fall of Rome.
And frankly, when you read this, you wonder how Rome took so long to fall.


Between the only two valid generals who stay close to the Empress – who hate each other – one of whom only dreams of the fall of the other – another who will ask the Vandals to ally with him and join him in Libya – which will cause the presence of these northerners on the shores of contemporary Maghreb, for a very long time actually….
The Vandals who watch these patrician families fighting each other and who take advantage of every opportunity to leave with booty – a magnificent booty being half the roof of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
Guys, seriously, they took down the roof and took it on their boats and Rome is not that close to the sea – But the roof was covered in gold, so it was surely worth it.

And in the meantime, no Emperor manages to live more than a year – the hardest to cook, the others : enthroned, paf, the tomb, so here they are all dying one after the other – of disease but yes but yes, what were you thinking? – sometimes of old age… once – sometimes of a little help from outside, it’s true.

And it never stops, throughout the book.

So, here, I have my epic find: already because there is an incredible amount of stories.
Then because it’s epic – it’s true – but the people are so modern in their behaviors, in their reactions, that it’s also often burlesque. And above all, it is very, very close to us.

Obviously, this requires adaptations.

From what I’ve read, I’ve been able to identify passages that would work very well as choreography.
Some others – the roof episode… – in circus.
Others for theatre.
Some with all three arts at once.

It is not necessarily useful or necessary to link the adaptation directly to its source. What is essential is that there is a source, with a strong concentration of epic within it.

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Featured Image : Battle of the Catalaunic Fields

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