Back in high school the Epic class was my favorite. It was held every Wednesday morning, from 8.30 to 10:30 am. We studied how the Greeks first and then the Romans depicted themselves and recounted their stories. I particularly loved to hear about how Epic had started: through the narration of incredible adventures of kings, warriors, gods and heroes by storytellers describing the society and placing every single person in their rightful places in the world. Thanks to Epic poems everyone knew what to do, what dress to wear, even what kind of language to speak.
I liked Epic so much that growing up I became a storyteller too, describing what I cared about and what I felt I could portray, hoping to be able like the aoidos of the past to advise people on how to dress, that is to say a little better.
Epic plays a key role in North Korea’s self narration. After the Second World War, Korea was abruptly divided in two parts, each subject to the protection of one of the two victorious powers (U.S.A. and U.S.S.R.), and it was necessary to rebuild a new collective consciousness from scratch.
With the support of the Soviet comrades, the North Korean regime, in a much more far-sighted way than the South Korean one, made a commitment as early as 1945 to create a narrative that had all the components necessary to satisfy the intimate needs of the people.
A strong and charismatic leader who, with very few comrades, rises up as a new David against the Japanese Goliath; a sacred place, beautiful and difficult to reach, identified as for the Greeks in a very high mountain (1) ; a country to be liberated; an unbalanced and arduous struggle to lead; a proud, generous, revolutionary people who first got rid of the Japanese yoke and then of the American one.
The regime engaged in such a coherent, massive and flawless way in the dissemination of this narrative that to discern exactly the real from the myth is a complex undertaking with uncertain results.
Not completely satisfied with the result, leader Kim Jong Il, known for his meticulous attention to mass media and in particular to cinema, invented a new and spectacular means of disseminating the National Epic in 2002: the Arirang.