Epic poetry

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For other uses of "epic", see Epic (disambiguation).
Tablet containing a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh

An epic poem, epic (from Latin epicus, from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός, epikos, from ἔπος, epos,[1] "word, story, poem"[2]), epos (from Latin epos, from Greek ἔπος, epos[3]), or epopee (from French épopée, from neo-Latin epopoeia, from Ancient Greek ἐποποιία, epopoiia)[4] is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.[5] Milman Parry and Albert Lord have argued that the Homeric epics, the earliest works of Western literature, were fundamentally an oral poetic form. These works form the basis of the epic genre in Western literature. Nearly all Western epic (including Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Divine Comedy) self-consciously presents itself as a continuation of the tradition begun by these poems. Classical epic employs dactylic hexameter and recounts a journey, either physical (as typified by Odysseus in the Odyssey) or mental (as typified by Achilles in the Iliad) or both. Epics also tend to highlight cultural norms and to define or call into question cultural values, particularly as they pertain to heroism.

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 into use in the nineteenth century. It refers primarily to the erudite, shorter hexameter poems of the Hellenistic period and the similar works composed at Rome from the age of the neoterics; to a lesser degree, the term includes some poems of the English Renaissance, particularly those influenced by Ovid.[citation needed] The most famous example of classical epyllion is perhaps Catullus 64.

Some of the most famous examples of epic poetry include the Ancient Greek Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, the ancient Indian Ramayana, Ramcharitmanas, and Mahabharata, Dante's Divine Comedy, the Portuguese Lusiads, and John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Oral epics or world folk epics

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 style 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. (Harmon and Holman)

An attempt to delineate ten main characteristics of an epic:[6]

  1. Begins in medias res.
  2. The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe.
  3. Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation).
  4. Begins with a statement of the theme.
  5. Includes the use of epithets.
  6. Contains long lists, called an epic catalogue.
  7. Features long and formal speeches.
  8. Shows divine intervention on human affairs.
  9. Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization.
  10. Often features the tragic hero's descent into the Underworld or hell.

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. Preposition: 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).[citation needed]
  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 restricted to cultures influenced by European Classical culture. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, or the Bhagavata Purana do 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".

Poets in literate societies have sometimes 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.

Form

Many verse forms have been used in epic poems through the ages, but each language's literature typically gravitates to one form, or at least to a very limited set. Ancient Greek and Latin poems were written in dactylic hexameter.[7] Old English, German and Norse poems were written in alliterative verse[8] with alliteration[9] but usually without rhyme. Italian, Spanish and Portuguese long poems were usually written in terza rima [10] or especially ottava rima.[11] From the 14th century English epic poems were written in heroic couplets,[12] and rhyme royal,[13] though in the 16th century the Spenserian stanza[14] and blank verse[15] were also introduced. The French alexandrine is currently the heroic line in French literature, though in earlier periods the decasyllable took precedence. In Polish literature, couplets of Polish alexandrines (syllabic lines of 7+6 syllables) prevail.[16] In Russian, iambic tetrameter verse is the most popular.[17] In Serbian poetry, the decasyllable is the only form employed.[18][19]

Notable epic poems

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript, 8th to 10th century.
This list can be compared with two others, national epic and list of world folk-epics.[20]

Ancient epics (to 500)

20th to 10th century BC

8th century BC to 3rd century AD

8th to 6th century BC

3rd century BC

1st century BC

1st century AD

2nd century

2nd to 5th century

3rd to 4th century

4th century

5th century

Medieval epics (500–1500)

Statue of Iranian poet Ferdowsi in Rome, Italy. Ferdowsi's national epic Shahnameh played an important role in revival of Iranian patriotism and the Persian language after both were systematically suppressed by the Arab occupation of Iran

7th century

8th to 10th century

11th century

The Knight in the Panther's Skin by Shota Rustaveli, one of the greatest Georgian poets.

12th century

13th century

14th century

15th century

Modern epics (from 1500)

16th century

17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

Other epics

See also

References

  1. ^ "epic". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Epic Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. ^ "epos". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "epopee". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Michael Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature (Bedford: St. Martin's, 2005), 2128. ISBN 0-312-41242-8.
  6. ^ Taken from William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 8th ed., Prentice Hall, 1999.
  7. ^ Hexameter, poetry at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  8. ^ Alliterative verse literature at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  9. ^ Alliteration at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  10. ^ Terza rima, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  11. ^ Ottava rima, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  12. ^ Heroic couplet, poetry at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  13. ^ Rhyme royal, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  14. ^ Spenserian stanza, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  15. ^ Blank verse, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  16. ^ See: Trzynastozgłoskowiec, [in:] Wiktor Jarosław Darasz, Mały przewodnik po wierszu polskim, Kraków 2003 (in Polish).
  17. ^ [Alexandra Smith, Montaging Pushkin: Pushkin and Visions of Modernity in Russian Twentieth Century Poetry, p. 184.]
  18. ^ Meyer, Early Tahitian Poetics.
  19. ^ Robert William Seton-Watson, The Spirit of the Serb.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "The Lusiads". World Digital Library. 1800–1882. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  22. ^ Pender, Patricia (2012). Early Modern Women's Writing and the Rhetoric of Modesty. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 166. ISBN 9781137008015. 
  23. ^ a b Stephen Greenblatt et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume D, 9th edition (Norton, 2012)

Bibliography

  • Jan de Vries: Heroic Song and Heroic Legend ISBN 0-405-10566-5.
  • Hashmi, Alamgir (2011). "Eponymous Écriture and the Poetics of Reading a Transnational Epic". Dublin Quarterly, 15. 
  • 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.
  • Fallon, Oliver. Bhatti's Poem: The Death of Rávana (Bhaṭṭikāvya). New York 2009: Clay Sanskrit Library, [1]. ISBN 978-0-8147-2778-2, ISBN 0-8147-2778-6.
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