Traditions, which may appear fixed in society, are often subject to changes and adaptations as future generations attempt to mould these traditions to fit their contemporary values. Although the basic structure of these traditions are still evident, modifications occur so the custom is able to maintain its relevance. This is also true of the epic tradition. In ancient epics, the hero traditionally represents that culture's ideals and appeals to the citizens on a personal level; however, as the epic tradition progresses, the author increasingly begins to use the hero and other central characters as a tool to promote his own agenda: to shape, and potentially change, the values of his society. Through the examination of the central characters in The Iliad, The Faerie Queene, and Paradise Lost, one can come to comprehend this transition throughout the epic tradition.
The first known poems in the classical epic tradition were the two Homeric epics: The Iliad and The Odyssey. Although the authorship of The Iliad and The Odyssey are traditionally attributed to Homer, both poems were actually formed through the oral tradition (Beye 3). The oral tradition refers to a process where stories were formed by sharing through word of mouth and not transcription. Even if Homer was the initial narrator of both epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey would have undergone many changes with each recitation (7). Because of this, both epics can be considered a product of their culture instead of the product of an individual, and consequently, they embody cultural values rather than the values of just a singular individual. This is most apparent through the character Achilles in The Iliad. Even though the events of The Iliad take place during the Trojan War of the Greek Bronze Age, the epic was formed during the Greek Dark Age in a society which was heavily dependent on the warrior class (Lowrey 1). During this time, the Ancient Greeks valued the ability to get angry because it was connected to the ability to fight and defend; however, too much anger was thought to hinder one's ability to do so.