- Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy
narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. [Michael Meyer, "The Bedford Introduction to Literature", Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005, p2128. ISBN 0-312-41242-8 ] Oral poetrymay qualify as an epic, although even the works of such great poets as Homer, Virgil, Dante Alighieriand John Miltonwould be unlikely to have survived without being written down. The first epics are known as primary, or original, epics. Epics that attempt to imitate these like Virgil's "The Aeneid" and John Milton's "Paradise Lost" are known as literary, or secondary, epics. One such epic is the Anglo-Saxon story Beowulf. [cite encyclopedia
title = epic
encyclopedia = The Columbia Encyclopedia
edition = 6
publisher = Columbia University Press
location = New York
date = 2004
accessdate = 2007-09-25 ] Another type of epic poetry is "" (plural: epyllia) which is a brief
narrative poemwith a romantic or mythologicaltheme. The term, which means 'little ', came in use in the Nineteenth century. It refers primarily to the type of erotic and mythological long elegy of which Ovidremains 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 " The Aeneid".
Oral epics or world folk epics
Early twentieth-century study of living oral epic traditions in the
Balkansby Milman Parryand Albert Lorddemonstrated 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
Homerwas 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.
Epics have nine main characteristics:
# opens in Media Res
# The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world, or the universe.
# begins with an invocation to a muse
# starts with a statement of the theme
# the use of epithets.
# includes long lists.
# features long and formal speeches.
# shows divine intervention on human affairs.
# "STAR" heroes that embody the values of the civilization.
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 from which the epic originates. Many epic heroes are
recurring characters in the legends of their native culture.
Conventions of Epics:
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, where Homerasks the Muse which god it was who caused the war); or of a situation (as in the Song of Roland, with Charlemagnein Spain).
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 which were influenced by Classical culture: the Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, or the Bhagavata Puranawould obviously not contain this element)
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.
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.
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 European examples of which the text survives are the "
Argonautica" of Apollonius of Rhodesand 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 poems
Beowulf" manuscript] :"This list can be compared with two others, " national epic" and " list of world folk-epics"." [According to that article, world folk epics are those which are not just literary masterpieces but also an integral part of the world viewof a people, originally oral, later written down by one or several authors.]
Ancient epics (to 500)
*20th to 18th century BC:
Epic of Gilgamesh" ( Mesopotamian mythology)
**"Atrahasis" (Mesopotamian mythology)
*8th to 6th century BC:
Enuma Elish" ( Babylonian mythology)
Iliad", ascribed to Homer( Greek mythology)
Odyssey", ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)
Works and Days", ascribed to Hesiod(Greek mythology)
**Lost Greek epics ascribed to the
Epic Cycleincluding " Cypria", " Aethiopis", " Little Iliad", " Sack of Troy", "Return from Troy", " Telegony"
Theban Cycleincluding "Oedipodea", "Thebaid", " Epigoni (epic)", " Alcmeonis"
Titanomachy", "Heracleia", "Capture of Oechalia", " Naupactia", "Phocais", "Minyas", "Danais'
*5th to 4th century BC:
Mahabharata", ascribed to Vyasa(Hindu mythology) (5th to 1st century BC)
Ramayana", ascribed to Valmiki(Hindu mythology) (5th century BC to 4th century AD)
**Lost Greek epics: poems by
Aristeas("Arimaspeia"), Asius of Samos, Chersias of Orchomenus
Book of Job
*3rd century BC:
Argonautica" by Apollonius of Rhodes
*2nd century BC:
Annales" by Ennius(lost)
*1st century BC:
Aeneid" by Virgil
Táin Bó CúailngeFact|date=September 2008
*1st century AD:
Pharsalia" ("Bellum Civile" or Civil War) by Lucan
**"Punica" ("Bellum Punicum" or Punic War) by
Argonautica" by Gaius Valerius Flaccus
Buddhacarita" by unicode|Aśvaghoṣa ( Indian epic poetry)
**"Saundaranandakavya" by unicode|Aśvaghoṣa (Indian epic poetry)
*2nd to 5th century:
The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature:
Cilappatikaram" by Prince Ilango Adigal
Manimekalai" by Seethalai Saathanar
Civaka Cintamani" by Tirutakakatevar
Kundalakesi" by a Buddhist poet
***"Valayapati" by a Jaina poet
*3rd to 4th century:
Posthomerica" by Quintus of Smyrna
**"Evangeliorum libri" by
Kālidāsa( Indian epic poetry)
Raghuvamsa" by Kālidāsa (Indian epic poetry)
Dionysiaca" by Nonnus
Medieval epics (500-1500)
*8th to 10th century:
Beowulf" (retelling of Anglo-Saxon legends)
Waldere", Old English version of the story told in "Waltharius" (below), known only as a brief fragment
David of Sasun" ( Armenian language)
Bhagavata Purana" (Sanskrit "Stories of the Lord") written from earlier sources
Shahnameh" ( Persian mythology) (epic poem detailing Persian legend and history from prehistoric times to the fall of the Sassanid Empire)
Waltharius" by Ekkehard of St Gall, Latin version of the story of Walter of Aquitaine
The Battle of Maldon", brief Old English epic describing a recent battle
Poetic Edda" ( Norse mythology) (collection of poems of Norse mythology from various sources; dates of composition vary within the collection, but the majority of poems existed before the 12th century based on the excerpts in the Prose Edda)
Ruodlieb", Latin epic by a German author
**"Digenis Akritas" (Byzantine epic poem)
La Chanson de Roland" (" The Song of Roland")
Epic of King Gesar" (Tibetan epic; compiled from earlier sources)
Epic of Manas" ( Kyrgyzepic, possibly later)
The Knight in the Panther Skin" by Shota Rustaveli
Alexandreis", Latin epic by Walter of Châtillon
De bello Troiano" and the lost "Antiocheis" by Joseph of Exeter
Carmen de Prodicione Guenonis" (Latin version of the story of the "Song of Roland")
Architrenius", satirical Latin epic by John of Hauville
Liber ad honorem Augusti" by Peter of Eboli, Latin narrative of the conquest of Sicilyby Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Nibelungenlied" ( Germanic mythology)
Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise" ("Song of the Albigensian Crusade"; Occitan)
**"Epic of Sundiata"
**"El Cantar de Mio Cid", Spanish epic of the
De triumphis ecclesiae", Latin literary epic by Johannes de Garlandia
Parzival" by Wolfram von Eschenbach
The Secret History of the Mongols
Cursor Mundi" by an anonymous cleric (c. 1300)
**"Divina Commedia" ("The Divine Comedy") by
**"Africa", Latin literary epic by
The Tale of the Heike" (Japanese epic war tale)
Alliterative Morte Arthure"
Orlando innamorato" by Matteo Maria Boiardo(1495)
Modern epics (from 1500)
Orlando furioso" by Ludovico Ariosto(1516)
Os Lusíadas" by Luís de Camões(c.1555)
La Araucana" by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga(1569-1589)
La Gerusalemme liberata" by Torquato Tasso(1575)
Ramacharitamanasa" (based on the " Ramayana") by Goswami Tulsidas(1577)
**"Lepanto" by King
James VI of Scotland(1591)
The Faerie Queene" by Edmund Spenser(1596)
The Barons' Wars" by Michael Drayton(1603; early version 1596 entitled "Mortimeriados")
**"The Purple Island" by Phineas Fletcher (1633)
**"Szigeti veszedelem", also known under the Latin title " Obsidionis Szigetianae", a Hungarian epic by Miklós Zrínyi (1651)
Paradise Lost" by John Milton(1667)
Paradise Regained" by John Milton(1671)
**"Prince Arthur" by
**"King Arthur" by
**"Columbus" by Ubertino Carrara (1714)
**"La Pucelle d'Orléans" by
Utendi wa Tambuka" by Bwana Mwengo (1728)
**"The Highlander'; by
**"The Works of
Ossian" by James MacPherson(1765)
O Uraguai" by Basílio da Gama (1769)
Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire"** by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill(1773)
**"Der Messias" by
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock(1773)
Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov(1771-1779)
Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov(1785)
**"Joan of Arc" by
**"Thalaba the Destroyer" by
**"The Curse of
Kehama" by Robert Southey(1810)
**"Roderick, the Last of the Goths" by
The Revolt of Islam (Laon and Cyntha)" by Percy Bysshe Shelley(1817)
Endymion", (1818) by John Keats
**"Hyperion", (1818), and "
The Fall of Hyperion", (1819) by John Keats
**"L'Orléanide, Poème national en vingt-huit chants", by
Philippe-Alexandre Le Brun de Charmettes(1821)
**"Don Juan" by Lord Byron (1824)
Pan Tadeusz" by Adam Mickiewicz(1834)
**"Smrt Smail-age Čengića" by
Kalevala" by Elias Lönnrot(1849 Finnish mythology)
Kalevipoeg" by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald(1853 Estonian mythology)
The Prelude" by William Wordsworth
The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(1855)
**"La Fin de Satan" by
Victor Hugo(written between 1855 and 1860, published in 1886)
**"La Légende des Siècles" ("The Legend of the Centuries") by
Martín Fierroby José Hernández(1872)
Clarel" by Herman Melville(1876)
The City of Dreadful Night" by James Thomson (B.V.)(finished in 1874, published in 1880)
Lāčplēsis" ('The Bear-Slayer') by Andrejs Pumpurs(1888; Latvian Mythology)
**"Lahuta e Malcís" by
Gjergj Fishta(composed 1902-1937)
The Ballad of the White Horse" by G. K. Chesterton(1911)
**"The Hashish-Eater; Or, The Apocalypse of Evil" by
Clark Ashton Smith(1920)
Kurukshetra"(1946), " Rashmirathi"(1952), " Urvashi" (1961) by Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'
**"Astronautilía-Hvězdoplavba" by Jan Křesadlo
Nikos Kazantzakis(Greek verse, composed 1924-1938)
The Cantos" by Ezra Pound(composed 1915-1969)
**"A Cycle of the West" by
John Neihardt(composed 1921-1949)
Louis Zukofsky(composed 1928-1968)
William Carlos Williams(composed c.1940-1961)
**"Victory for the Slain" by
Hugh John Lofting(1942)
**"The Maximus Poems" by
Charles Olson(composed 1950-1970)
Harry Martinson(composed 1956)
**"Libretto for the Republic of Liberia" by
Melvin B. Tolson(1953)
**"Mountains and Rivers Without End" by
Gary Snyder(composed 1965-1996)
The Changing Light at Sandover" by James Merrill(composed 1976-1982)
Omeros" by Derek Walcott(1990)
**"The Levant" by
**"The Descent of Alette" by
**"Cheikh Anta Diop: Poem for the Living" by
Mwatabu S. Okantah(1997)
**"The Dream of Norumbega: Epic on the U.S." by
James Wm. Chichetto(c. 1990; p. 2000- )
*"The Anathemata" by David Jones (1952)
*"Canto general" by
Four Quartets" by T. S. Eliot
Der Ring des Nibelungen" by Richard Wagner(opera)
Parsifal" by Richard Wagner(opera)
*"Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse" by Les Murray
Chanson de geste
* Duma (Ukrainian epic)
Hebrew and Jewish epic poetry
Indian epic poetry
Serbian epic poetry
List of world folk-epics
Calliope(Greek muse of epic poetry)
* [http://WorldChronicle.net WorldChronicle.net]
* [http://www.claysanskritlibrary.org 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.
* [http://humx.org/epic_poetry Humanities Index] has notes on epic poetry.
* [http://www.worldofdante.org/ 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.
*Jan de Vries: "Heroic Song and Heroic Legend" ISBN 0-405-10566-5
*Cornel Heinsdorff: "Christus, Nikodemus und die Samaritanerin bei Juvencus. Mit einem Anhang zur lateinischen Evangelienvorlage", Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 67, Berlin/New York 2003, ISBN 3-11-017851-6
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