Follow TV Tropes


Epic Catalog

Go To

Epic poetry has a habit of, at some point, padding out the story with a long list of characters, often famous historical or mythic figures. Some critics even consider this one of the genre's defining characteristics. In very old works, this can be a valuable resource for historians.

More modern poetry uses a similar technique, pioneered by Walt Whitman, using lists of anything.

Contrast Long List, where an absurdly long list or enumeration is played for comedy.


  • Paradise Lost ends with Michael showing Adam the whole of human history from the immediate consequences of The Fall to Judgment Day, name dropping the whole way.
  • The Iliad has several catalogues. The most famous is the Catalogue of Ships in Book 2, some 250 lines just listing all the Greek commanders and how many ships each one brought from his domains. This includes the big names — the Atreides (Agamemnon and Menelaus), both Ajaxs, Diomedes, Nestor, Odysseus, Achilles, and so on — and an awful lot of obscure nobodies like pretty boy Nireus who brought all of three ships. For the curious, the Catalogue totals 1186 ships, which means that Helen is worth a little under 1.2 Helens.— Apparently, as the poem developed over time, more and more people wanted to get a mention of an ancestor somewhere in the story. Some people have claimed the name of every person who died during the war is mentioned somewhere in the full text.
  • The Odyssey grinds to a halt when the travelers arrive in Hades and see all the most beautiful women in history, both real and fictional.
  • Theogony comes close to being nothing but this trope, but the straightest examples would be the lists of the lovers of Zeus and the male gods their children (lines 886-964) and of the mortal lovers of goddesses and their children (965-1022).
  • The Song of Roland features long lists.
  • Poetic Edda and Prose Edda contain extended genealogies, lists of doughty deeds and such. One of the better known is Dvergatal, the "list of dwarfs", in "Völuspá" (from the Poetic Edda) — six stanzas with nothing but dwarf names.
  • "Krákumál": The first part of the poem (up to stanza #21) is a list of the noteworthy deeds of Ragnar Lodbrok's life, beginning with the slaying of a dragon, and recalling some 20 battles and their locations, including the famous kings and chiefs who fell in these battles.
  • The Canterbury Tales starts with a list of all the people going on the trip. It lasts for 858 lines. Presumably, the finished product was going to have all of them tell four stories to the group.
  • The little-known Greek epic Catalogue of Women is such a catalog taking up the entire poem.
  • Beowulf does a little bit of this at the beginning, enumerating the line of Danish kings until Hrothgar.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus parodies this with Njorl's Saga.
  • Dante's The Divine Comedy engages in several extended name drops in Inferno and Paradiso.
  • Oedipus Rex contains some long dialogues of the chorus waxing poetic on the Greek gods. Justified, though, as it is a work from ancient Greece from back when plays were less what we think of them as being today and more religious ceremonies.
  • The Bible has several very long genealogies to establish that the Chosen People actually can make the claim through bloodlines. Most people on a quest to read the Bible from beginning to end hit the dreaded "The Begats" and give up.
  • Quite common in The Histories by Herodotus. Aside from various genealogies, there's also a very detailed record of the troop contingents that made up King Xerxes's invasion force.
  • The Thebaid: The forces allied with Argos are lined out in 300 lines at the beginning of Book Four. Unlike several epic lists, the catalogue is less about listing all the individuals involved as with highlighting the most important characters in the coming story and describing their motivations for going to battle.

Alternative Title(s): Epic Catalogue