PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2006, 12:00am

Do you know what an epic is? You're just 80 pages away from finding out. The dictionary defines an epic as being a literary or dramatic composition that resembles an extended narrative poem which celebrates heroic feats. Peter Gram's story Gladiator has all the key components required in an epic.

What are those ingredients? Ask yourself if Gladiator has the following ingredients:

An epic is a kind of story revealing grandiose, dramatic events

Indeed, Gladiator is full of dramatic events

For example, the fight between Maximus and Commodus in the Coliseum offers great excitement

An epic usually contains larger-than-life characters, with at least a hero and a villain

Gladiator is full of dynamic characters

Maximus clearly fits the role of hero, while Commodus acts as the villain

Epics usually evoke an element of suspense

Readers will not have to look far for suspense in Gladiator

Over the course of the book, they are left in suspense to wonder what will become of all the characters - will good and justice prevail in the end?

Epic tales usually experience highs and lows - in other words, epics usually involve some sort of trouble or crisis that needs to be resolved

Crisis does not take long to strike in this novel

Early in the book, the reader realises that Marcus Aurelius and the great city of Rome are at the edge of greatness or of destruction

Gladiator tells the tale of Marcus Aurelius, his son Commodus and the great Roman general called Maximus. All three of these characters share a passion for their home country, Rome. However, the three of them do not share a common vision for their country. This is where the trouble begins ...

Here's an overview:

When we first meet Marcus Aurelius, he is the emperor of Rome. He is getting old and shows concern about the future of his nation.

What adjectives might you use to describe the character of Marcus Aurelius?

In what ways does he seem to be a larger-than-life, epic figure?

Now, Commodus enters the scene. He is the son of Marcus Aurelius, and instantly a questionable figure. His father seems suspicious of him from the start.

As you read the book, can you find clues that will help you to identify the father's suspicions about his son?

Is Commodus an epic figure? What role does he play in the drama that unfolds?

Then there is Maximus. Maximus is favoured by the emperor. He is a loyal and robust Roman. Often in the novel, Maximus is quoted as saying: 'What we do in life echoes in eternity.'

What do you think this quote means?

How does this expression help the reader to get a better idea of Maximus' character and principles?

Gladiator is an action-packed novel based on historical events that you will want to read in one go.

Food for thought:

Once you've read the book, reward yourself by watching the film adaptation. Is the film true to the novel? Which one is more compelling? Why? Many people claim that there are no longer epic stories such as Gladiator. Do you agree? Can you think of any modern-day epics or epic characters?