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An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos), from ἔπος (epos) "word, story, poem") is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form. 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. The most famous example of classical epyllion is perhaps Catullus 64.
Oral epics or world folk epics
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:
- Begins in medias res.
- The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe.
- Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation).
- Begins with a statement of the theme.
- Includes the use of epithets.
- Contains long lists, called an epic catalogue.
- Features long and formal speeches.
- Shows divine intervention on human affairs.
- Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization.
- 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:
- 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).
- 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).
- 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 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 poems
Ancient epics (to 500)
- 20th to 10th century BC:
(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.)
- 8th century BC - 3rd century AD:
The dates of origin these Hindu epics are hard to determine, as they existed for a long time in history as oral traditions with numerous versions and also in different regions of India and South Asia.
- 8th to 6th century BC:
- Iliad, ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)
- Odyssey, ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)
- Works and Days, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
- Theogony, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
- Catalogue of Women, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
- Shield of Heracles, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
- 3rd century BC:
- 2nd 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)
- 7th century:
- 8th to 10th century:
- 9th century:
- 10th century:
- 11th century:
- 12th century:
- Chanson de Roland (Old French)
- The Knight in the Panther Skin (Georgian) by Shota Rustaveli
- Alexandreis by Walter of Châtillon (Latin)
- De bello Troiano and the lost Antiocheis by Joseph of Exeter
- Carmen de Prodicione Guenonis, version of the story of the Song of Roland in Latin
- Architrenius by John of Hauville, Latin satire
- Liber ad honorem Augusti by Peter of Eboli, narrative of the conquest of Sicily by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor (Latin)
- The Tale of Igor's Campaign and Bylinas (11th-19th centuries)
- 13th century:
- Philippide (Latin) by William the Breton
- Nibelungenlied (Middle High German)
- Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach - (Middle High German)
- Brut by Layamon (Early Middle English)
- Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise ("Song of the Albigensian Crusade"; Occitan)
- Antar (Arabic); see also Arabic epic literature
- Sirat al-Zahir Baibars (Arabic); see also Arabic epic literature
- Osman's Dream (Ottoman Turkish)
- Epic of Sundiata
- El Cantar de Mio Cid, Spanish epic of the Reconquista (Old Spanish)
- De triumphis ecclesiae by Johannes de Garlandia (Latin)
- Gesta Regum Britanniae by William of Rennes (Latin)
- Poema de Fernán González, cantar de gesta by a monk of San Pedro de Arlanza; 1250-1266 (Old Spanish)
- Jewang ungi by Yi Seung-hyu ("Rhymed Chronicles of Sovereigns"; 1287 Korea)
- 14th century:
- 15th century:
Modern epics (from 1500)
- 16th century:
- Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1516)
- Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões (c.1555)
- L'Amadigi by Bernardo Tasso (1560)
- 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)
- Matilda by Michael Drayton (1594)
- The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (1596)
- 17th century:
- The Barons' Wars by Michael Drayton (1603; early version 1596 entitled Mortimeriados)
- The Whole Works of Homer Prince of Poets by George Chapman (1616) a retelling of the Iliad and Odyssey in iambic rhyming couplets: the Iliad in iambic heptameter, and the Odyssey in iambic pentameter.
- Les Tragiques by Agrippa D'Aubigné (1616)
- The Purple Island by Phineas Fletcher (1633)
- Biag ni Lam-ang by Pedro Bucaneg (1640)
- Il Conquisto di Granata by Girolamo Graziani (1650)
- Szigeti veszedelem, also known under the Latin title Obsidionis Szigetianae, a Hungarian epic by Miklós Zrínyi (1651)
- Davideis by Abraham Cowley (c. 1668)
- Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667)
- Paradise Regained by John Milton (1671)
- Wojna chocimska by Wacław Potocki (1672)
- Prince Arthur by Richard Blackmore (1695)
- King Arthur by Richard Blackmore (1697)
- 18th century:
- Kumulipo by Keaulumoku (1700) an Ancient Hawaiian cosmogonic genealogy first published in (1889)
- Eliza by Richard Blackmore (1705)
- Columbus by Ubertino Carrara (1714)
- Redemption by Richard Blackmore (1722)
- Henriade by Voltaire (1723)
- La Pucelle d'Orléans by Voltaire (1756)
- Alfred by Richard Blackmore (1723)
- Utendi wa Tambuka by Bwana Mwengo (1728)
- Leonidas by Richard Glover (1737)
- Epigoniad by William Wilkie (1757)
- The Highlander; by James Macpherson (1758)
- 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)
- Rossiada by Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov (1771–1779)
- Vladimir by Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov (1785)
- Athenaid by Richard Glover (1787)
- Joan of Arc by Robert Southey (1796)
- Hermann and Dorothea by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1797)
- Achilleid by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1797-1799)
- 19th century:
- The Tale of Kiều by Nguyễn Du (1800?)
- Thalaba the Destroyer by Robert Southey (1801)
- The Lay of the Last Minstrel by Walter Scott (1805)
- Madoc by Robert Southey (1805)
- Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (part 1 1806, part 2 c. 1833)
- Columbiad by Joel Barlow (1807)
- Milton: a Poem by William Blake (1804–1810)
- Marmion (poem) by Walter Scott (1808)
- The Lady of the Lake (poem) by Walter Scott (1810)
- The Vision of Don Roderick by Walter Scott (1811)
- The Curse of Kehama by Robert Southey (1810)
- Rokeby and The Bridal of Triermain by Walter Scott (1813)
- Queen Mab (poem) by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)
- Roderick the Last of the Goths by Robert Southey (1814)
- The Lord of the Isles by Walter Scott (1813)
- Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1815)
- The Revolt of Islam (Laon and Cyntha) by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1817)
- Harold the Dauntless by Walter Scott (1817)
- Endymion, (1818) by John Keats
- The Battle of Marathon by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1820)
- 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)
- Phra Aphai Mani by Sunthorn Phu (1821 or 1823–1845)
- Don Juan by Lord Byron (1824)
- Prometheus Bound by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1833)
- Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz (1834)
- Krst pri Savici by France Prešeren (1835)
- The Seraphim by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1838)
- Smrt Smail-age Čengića by Ivan Mažuranić (1846)
- Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1847)
- The Mountain Wreath by Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (1847)
- Lazarica or Battle of Kosovo by Joksim Nović-Otočanin (1847)
- Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot (1849 Finnish mythology)
- Kalevipoeg by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1853 Estonian mythology)
- The Prelude by William Wordsworth
- Song of Myself by Walt Whitman (1855)
- The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1855)
- Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1860)
- 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 Victor Hugo (1859–1877)
- The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning (1868-69)
- Martín Fierro by José Hernández (1872)
- Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson (c. 1874)
- Clarel by Herman Melville (1876)
- L'Atlàntida by Jacint Verdaguer (1877)
- The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson (B.V.) (finished in 1874, published in 1880)
- Eros and Psyche by Robert Bridges (1885)
- Canigó by Jacint Verdaguer (1886)
- Lāčplēsis ('The Bear-Slayer') by Andrejs Pumpurs (1888; Latvian Mythology)
- The Wanderings of Oisin by William Butler Yeats (1889)
- 20th century:
- Lahuta e Malcís by Gjergj Fishta (composed 1902-1937)
- Drake: An English Epic (1905–1908), The Torch-Bearers (1917–1930) by Alfred Noyes
- The Ballad of the White Horse by G. K. Chesterton (1911)
- Mensagem by Fernando Pessoa (composed 1913-1934)
- The Cantos by Ezra Pound (composed 1915-1969)
- Celebration of the Lizard by The Doors (composed 1965-1968)
- The Hashish-Eater; Or, The Apocalypse of Evil by Clark Ashton Smith (1920)
- The Bridge by Hart Crane (1930)
- Kurukshetra(Epic Poem) (1946), Rashmirathi (1952), Urvashi (1961), Hunkar by Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'
- Savitri by Aurobindo Ghose (1950)
- The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis (Greek verse, composed 1924-1938)
- Dymer by C. S. Lewis (1926)
- A Cycle of the West by John Neihardt (composed 1921-1949)
- "A" by Louis Zukofsky (composed 1928-1968)
- Paterson by 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)
- Libretto for the Republic of Liberia by Melvin B. Tolson (1953)
- Aniara by Harry Martinson (composed 1956)
- Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder (composed 1965-1996)
- Helen in Egypt by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1974)
- The Changing Light at Sandover by James Merrill (composed 1976-1982)
- The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford (published 1977)
- Hindi: Lalita Ke Aansoo by Krant M. L. Verma (Published 1978)
- The Legend of Te Tuna by Richard Adams (published 1982)
- "Empire of Dreams" by Giannina Braschi (1988 in Spanish; 1994 in English).
- Omeros by Derek Walcott (1990)
- The Levant by Mircea Cărtărescu (1990)
- Astronautilía Hvězdoplavba by Jan Křesadlo (1995)
- The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley (1996)
- Cheikh Anta Diop: Poem for the Living by Mwatabu S. Okantah (1997)
- The Folding Cliffs by W.S. Merwin (1998)
- The Dream of Norumbega: Epic on the U.S. by James Wm. Chichetto (c. 1990; p. 2000- )
- 21st Century:
- Cerulean Odyssey: Journey of a Long Distance Voyager. by Gerrit Verstraete (c. 2004-2012, 10 Volumes - the longest epic written in Canadian literary history, comprising 148,518 words and 27,548 lines)
- Thaliad by Marly Youmans (published 2012)
- Sveta poroka by Vlado Žabot (2012)
- "Eternity Regained by Derek Sebastian Warden (2012)
- Eternity Seen by Derek Sebastian Warden (2012)
- Exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies by Anne Bradstreet (1650)
- The Conquest of Canaan by Timothy Dwight IV (1785)
- The Anarchiad by David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, and Lemuel Hopkins (1786–87)
- The Anathemata by David Jones (1952)
- The Adagios Quartet by Judith Fitzgerald (poetry 1999-2009)
- Canto general by Pablo Neruda
- Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
- Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner (opera, composed 1848-1874)
- Parsifal by Richard Wagner (opera, composed 1880-1882)
- Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse by Les Murray
- Siribhoovalaya, a unique work of multi-lingual literature written by Kumudendu Muni, a Jain monk
- Hinilawod, a Panay epic.
- Epic Fantasy
- Epic Film
- Epic Hero
- Mock epic
- Chanson de geste
- Duma (Ukrainian epic)
- Bylina (Russian epic)
- Hebrew and Jewish epic poetry
- Indian epic poetry
- Serbian epic poetry
- Yukar (Ainu epic)
- List of world folk-epics
- National epic
- Calliope (Greek muse of epic poetry)
- Epic Online Etymology Dictionary
- Michael Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005, p2128. ISBN 0-312-41242-8
- "epic". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6 ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 2004.
- Taken from William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 8th ed., Prentice Hall, 1999.
- 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.
- *Book:Lalita Ke Ansoo on worldcat
- Lalita Ke Aansu (epic poem) 2005 Anurag Prakashan New Delhi ISBN 81-87779-60-0
- Hindustan (Hindi daily) New Delhi 12 January 1978 (ललिता के आँसू का विमोचन)
- Panchjanya (newspaper) A literary review 24 February 1980
- Guerber, H.A. (1913). The Book of the Epic. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. p. 465. "a work some authorities rank as the first American epic"
- Stephen Greenblatt et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume D, 9th edition (Norton, 2012)
- Stephen Greenblatt et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume D, 9th edition (Norton, 2012)
- 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.
- 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, . ISBN 978-0-8147-2778-2, ISBN 0-8147-2778-6