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File:GilgameshTablet.jpg
An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos'pi), from ἔπος (epos) "word, story, poem"[1]) is a lengthy narrative poem , ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.[2]

DefinitionEdit

Epic (epic) a. Ep"ic [L. epicus, Gr. (?), from (?) a word, speech, tale, song; akin to L. vox voice: cf. F. épique. See Voice.] Narrated in a grand style; pertaining to or designating a kind of narrative poem , usually called an heroic poem, in which real or fictitious events, usually the achievements of some hero, are narrated in an elevated style. "The epic poem treats of one great, complex action, in a grand style and with fullness of detail. T. Arnold."

Epic (epic) n. Ep"ic An epic or heroic poem. See Epic, a.[3]

HistoryEdit

Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were originally an oral poetic form. Nonetheless, epics have been written down at least since the works of Virgil, Dante Alighieri, and John Milton. Many probably would not have survived if not written down. The first epics are known as primary, or original, epics. One such epic is the Old English story Beowulf.[4] Epics that attempt to imitate these like Milton's Paradise Lost are known as literary, or secondary, epics. Another type of epic poetry is epyllion (plural: epyllia), which is a brief narrative poem with a romantic or mythological theme. The term, which means 'little epic', came in use in the nineteenth century. It refers primarily to the type of erotic and mythological long elegy of which Ovid remains the master; to a lesser degree, the term includes some poems of the English Renaissance, particularly those influenced by Ovid. One suggested example of classical epyllion may be seen in the story of Nisus and Euryalus in Book IX of Aeneid.

Oral epics or world folk epicsEdit

The first epics were products of preliterate societies and oral poetic traditions. In these traditions, poetry is transmitted to the audience and from performer to performer by purely oral means. Early twentieth-century study of living oral epic traditions in the Balkans by Milman Parry and Albert Lord demonstrated the paratactic model used for composing these poems. What they demonstrated was that oral epics tend to be constructed in short episodes, each of equal status, interest and importance. This facilitates memorization, as the poet is recalling each episode in turn and using the completed episodes to recreate the entire epic as he performs it. Parry and Lord also showed that the most likely source for written texts of the epics of Homer was dictation from an oral performance.

Epic: a long narrative poem in elevated stature presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race.
An attempt to deliminate nine main characteristics of an epic:[5]

  1. It opens in medias res. (Citation needed)
  2. The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe. (Citation needed)
  3. Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation). (Citation needed)
  4. It starts with a statement of the theme. (Citation needed)
  5. Includes the use of epithets. (Citation needed)
  6. Contains long lists (epic catalogue). (Citation needed)
  7. Features long and formal speeches. (Citation needed)
  8. Shows divine intervention on human affairs. (Citation needed)
  9. "Star" heroes that embody the values of the civilization. (Citation needed)

The hero generally participates in a cyclical journey or quest, faces adversaries that try to defeat him in his journey and returns home significantly transformed by his journey. The epic hero illustrates traits, performs deeds, and exemplifies certain morals that are valued by the society the epic originates from. Many epic heroes are recurring characters in the legends of their native culture. Conventions of epics: (Citation needed)

  1. Praepositio: Opens by stating the theme or cause of the epic. This may take the form of a purpose (as in Milton, who proposed "to justify the ways of God to men"); of a question (as in the Iliad, which Homer initiates by asking a Muse to sing of Achilles' anger); or of a situation (as in the Song of Roland, with Charlemagne in Spain).
  2. Invocation: Writer invokes a Muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus. The poet prays to the Muses to provide him with divine inspiration to tell the story of a great hero. (This convention is obviously restricted to cultures influenced by European Classical culture. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, or the Bhagavata Purana would obviously not contain this element).
  3. In medias res: narrative opens "in the middle of things", with the hero at his lowest point. Usually flashbacks show earlier portions of the story.
  4. Enumeratio: Catalogues and genealogies are given. These long lists of objects, places, and people place the finite action of the epic within a broader, universal context. Often, the poet is also paying homage to the ancestors of audience members.
  5. Epithet: Heavy use of repetition or stock phrases: e.g., Homer's "rosy-fingered dawn" and "wine-dark sea."

Literate societies have often copied the epic format The earliest surviving European examples are the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes and Virgil's Aeneid, which follow both the style and subject matter of Homer. Other obvious examples are Nonnus' Dionysiaca, Tulsidas' Sri Ramacharit Manas.

Notable epic poemsEdit

Beowulf.firstpage

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

This list can be compared with two others, national epic and list of world folk-epics.[6]

Ancient epics (to 500)Edit

(The date of compositions of Babylonian epics is often hard to determine, as they may survive on manuscripts that are much later than the first composition. There is also the complication that they underwent successive revisions and redactions.)

Medieval epics (500-1500)Edit

Modern epics (from 1500)Edit

19th century
20th century

Other epics Edit

See alsoEdit

Template:Portal

ReferencesEdit

NotesEdit

  1. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=epic
  2. Michael Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005, p2128. ISBN 0-312-41242-8
  3. "Epic" Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913, 1913.MShaffer.com, Web, July 8, 2011.
  4. "epic". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6 ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 2004. 
  5. http://homepage.mac.com/mseffie/assignments/beowulf/epic.html
  6. According to that article, world folk epics are those that are not just literary masterpieces, but also an integral part of the world view of a people, originally oral, later written down by one or several authors.
  7. Guerber, H.A. (1913). The Book of the Epic. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. p. 465. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13983. "a work some authorities rank as the first American epic" 

External linksEdit

  • Clay Sanskrit Library publishes classical Indian literature, including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.
  • Humanities Index has notes on epic poetry.
  • World of Dante Multimedia website that offers Italian text of Divine Comedy, Allen Mandelbaum's translation, gallery, interactive maps, timeline, musical recordings, and searchable database for students and teachers.

BibliographyEdit

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