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Epic poetry

Epic poetry

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For other meanings of epic, see epic (disambiguation).

Template:Literature The epic is a broadly defined genre of poetry, and one of the major forms of narrative literature. It retells in a continuous narrative the life and works of a heroic or mythological person or group of persons. In the West, the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Nibelungenlied; and in the East, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Shahnama and Epic of King Gesar are often cited as examples of the epic genre. The composition of epic poetry, or of long poems in general, has become uncommon in the Western world since the early 20th century. The term "epic" however has been recycled to refer to prose works, films, and similar works which are characterized by great length, multiple settings, large numbers of characters, or long span of time involved. As a result of this change in the use of the word, many prose works of the past may be called "epics" which were not composed or originally understood as such.


Oral epics or world folk epics

The first epics are associated strongly with preliterate societies and oral poetic traditions. In these traditions, poetry is transmitted to the audience and from performer to performer by purely oral means. World folk epics are those epics which are not just literary masterpieces but also an integral part of the world view of a people. They were originally oral literatures, which were later written down by either single author or several writers.

Studies 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 memorisation, as the poet is recalling each episode and using them to recreate the entire epic as they perform 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.

See also list of world folk-epics.

Epics in literate societies

Literate societies have often copied the epic format; the earliest European examples of which the text survives 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, which follows the style and subject matter of Valmiki's Ramayana, and the Persian epic Shahnama by Ferdowsi.

Classical epic conventions include:

Invocation (prayer to the inspiring muse [of the epic]), praepositio (introduction of the epic's theme), enumeratio (counting the fighting heroes and their armies), the principles termed "in medias res" (starting from the middle of an event), Deus ex machina (divine intervention), anticipatio (prediction), and Epithet (permanent attributes of a heroic figure).

Notable epic poems

Ancient epics (to 500)

Medieval Epics (500-1500)

Modern Epics (from 1500)

Prose "Epics"

Other "Epics"

See also


  • 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, Bd.67), Berlin/ New York 2003 ISBN 3-11-017851-6

External links

cs:Epika da:Episk de:Epos el:Έπος es:Epopeya eo:Eposo fr:Épopée io:Epiko id:Epos he:שירה אפית lv:Liroepika hu:Epika nl:Epiek ja:叙事詩 no:Epikk pl:Epos ru:Эпос sk:Epos sl:Ep sr:Епика fi:Epiikka zh:史诗

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