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An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos), 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] Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally 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.[3]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 whichOvid 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 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 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.

covering many nations.[citation needed] 2. faces adversaries that try to defeat him in his journey and returns home significantly transformed by his journey. 1.[citation needed] 7. Features long and formal speeches. Shows divine intervention on human affairs. 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. Invocation: Writer invokes a Muse.[citation needed] 6. or of a situation (as in the Song of Roland. It starts with a statement of the theme. This may take the form of a purpose (as in Milton. . (This convention is obviously restricted to cultures influenced by European Classical culture. with Charlemagne in Spain). performs deeds. for example. The poet prays to the Muses to provide him with divine inspiration to tell the story of a great hero. Begins with an invocation to a muse.[citation needed] 4. needed] The hero generally participates in a cyclical journey or quest.[citation needed] 5. Contains long lists. 2. The Epic of Gilgamesh. "Star" heroes that embody the values of the civilization. Conventions of epics:[citation needed] Praepositio: Opens by stating the theme or cause of the epic.Epics have nine main characteristics:[4] It opens in medias res. of a question (as in the Iliad. The setting is vast. the world or the universe. The epic hero illustrates traits.[citation needed] 9.[citation needed] 8.[citation needed] 3. who proposed "to justify the ways of God to men"). which Homer initiates by asking a Muse to sing of Achilles' anger). or the Bhagavata Purana would obviously not contain this element).[citation 1. Includes the use of epithets. one of the nine daughters of Zeus.

Cataloguing refers to authors compiling long lists within the piece. the titular hero engages in a war of words with another character. In Beowulf. 5. such as by naming all the warriors in a regiment or all the trees in a specific forest. It’s the literary 3. often in the form of an issued challenge or customary bragging. "mist"] in Greek). g. One commonly recognized example of this could be found in Homer’s Iliad. a chief god's balancing the scales of fate.. formal speeches by the heroes. In the case of detailed descriptions. 4. both of which are found in nearly all the most famous works. the Phaeacian poet Demodocus in the Odyssey recounts the story of the Trojan Horse). he and Unferth verbally spar. Speeches are often followed by such phrases as "thus he spoke" to emphasize that the words are those of a character and not of the narrator. an author can go on for pages describing anything from warriors’ armor or the architecture of buildings to . weapons of supernatural origin (such as Achilles' shield. smith of the gods). equivalent of arriving late to the party and having to be brought up to speed with the drama still unfolding. for example. and nephelistic rescues (from "nephele" [Greek. Usually flashbacks show earlier portions of the story or the hero has set out on his journey. a descent into the Underworld. Epic machinery includes bardic recapitulations (e. a long and arduous journey for the hero. with the hero at his lowest point. each attempting to oneup the other by boasting of his own accomplishments while taking digs at his opponent. Enumeratio: Catalogues and genealogies are given. 6. These speeches were a means of establishing the bravery and heroism of the character by showcasing their deeds and abilities. fashioned by Hephaestus. Catalogues and detailed descriptions are also integral parts of epic poetry.In medias res: narrative opens "in the middle of things". which begins with the Trojan War already underway. authors of epic works typically included long.

loaded with description. Epithet: Heavy use of repetition or stock phrases: e. There is a general absence of this device inBeowulf. This is commonly known as “ekphrasis” and refers to something in a story. Though there could often be numerous “heroic” characters. but later English writers such as Milton and Arnold have deliberately incorporated such protracted comparisons into their works to give them weight and dignity. the figure. made frequent use of epithets. the hero descends into a lake to battle Grendel’s mother in an . often holds up the action at a crucial point to produce suspense. Homer was well known for his use of epithets in the Iliad and the Odyssey.artwork and wall tapestries. typically a piece of art. Literate societies have often copied the epic format The earliest surviving European examples are the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodesand Virgil's Aeneid. Other obvious examples are Nonnus' Dionysiaca. His actions concerned deeds of great valor and he was often tested throughout the course of the work. Homer's "rosy-fingered dawn" and "wine-dark sea. which follow both the style and subject matter of Homer.” 8. 2..g. The Epic or Homeric Simile is a protracted comparison beginning with "like" or "as". Because epics were typically written in poetic verse (hence the term “epic poem”) the use of epithets helped the flow of the poem and allowed lines to follow the proper meter." Epics also 7. a common test being a hero’s descent and subsequent return from the Underworld. . one individual generally stood out as THE hero with most of the action centering on or relating back to him. a word or phrase used in place of or in conjunction with a name. being described in exacting detail. Characters and Action Characters in epics were typically written with the positive qualities that people of the time held in high esteem. Looking again to Beowulf. Tulsidas' Sri Ramacharit Manas. referring often to “gray-eyed Athena” or “swift-footed Achilles. such as Ovid’s description of the door to Apollo’s house in Book II of his Metamorphoses.

M. Characteristics of the Epic Hero The form of the poem suggests that the material dealt with should be "events which have a certain grandeur and importance. and come from a life of action. The hero is introduced in the midst of turmoil. especially of violent action such as war" (see C. possesses distinctive weapons of great size and power. Practically every epic has numerous examples of gods interfering in the lives of mortals. From Virgil to Milton. 2. . often a demi-god. epics are ripe with examples of heroes engaged in all manner of conflicts. or competitions. Bowra. The hero is not only a warrior and a leader. one-onone fights. The hero. battles and contests were as common as the speeches and boasts that typically preceded them. but also a polished speaker who can address councils of chieftains or elders with eloquence and confidence. Epics in the Greek tradition also tended to include instances of the gods directing or participating in the action of the story. oftentimes with the entire plot of the tale relating directly back to the initial actions (and continual intervention) of the gods. often heirlooms or presents from the gods. antecedent action will be recounted in flashbacks. Whether taking the form of large-scale wars. 3. at a point well into the story. 1. these bouts were a means of furthering the action and adding to both the characters that participated in them and the storyline as a whole.underwater cavern in what could be interpreted as an early form of an “Underworld” descent test. 1). Lastly. From the Trojan War itself in Homer’s Iliad to the tale of Atalanta and the golden apples in Book X of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. p.

a hero gains little honour by slaying a lesser mortal. and divine assistance to overcome. Although his fellows may be great warriors (like Achilles and Beowulf. perilous journey. The hero establishes his aristeia (nobility) through single combat in superari a superiore. he may have a commitatus. . The hero's epic adversary is often a "god-despiser. 10. 11. courage. and cunning. which tests his endurance. the hero and his antagonist.4. meet at the climax. One such device for delaying this confrontation is the nephelistic rescue (utilized by Homer to rescue Paris from almost certain death and defeat at the hands of Menelaus in the Iliad). these the epic hero as a cultural exemplar possesses in abundance. The two great epic adversaries." one who has more respect for his own mental and physical abilities than for the power of the gods." "pious AEneas. or one whom the gods desert at a crucial moment. he undertakes a task that no one else dare attempt. The concept of arete (Greek for "bringing virtue to perfection") is crucial to understanding the epic protagonist. 8. Whatever virtues his race most prizes. That is. "Neukeia"). 5. cunning. which must be delayed as long as possible to sustain maximum interest. His key quality is often emphasized by his stock epithet: "Resourceful Odysseus. or group of noble followers with whom he grew up). 6. often involving a descent into the Underworld (Greek." "swiftfooted Achilles. but only by challenging heroes like himself or adversaries of superhuman power. honour coming from being vanquished by a superior foe. 9. The hero may encounter a numinous phenomenon (a place or person having a divine or supernatural force) such as a haunted wood or enchanting sorceress that he most use strength. The hero must undertake a long. The adversary might also be a good man sponsored by lesser deities." 7.

Robert Pinsky. Readers may also like to see the various approaches to extended poems that feature in the work ofWalt Whitman.Epic poetry today With different objectives. Some aspects also appear in proponents of expansive poetryand the long poem — broad perspectives. Derek Walcottand Sharon Doubiago.Ed Dorn. strong narrative and dramatic elements. Galway Kinnel. Amy Clampit. Adrienne Rich. St. . Nikos Kazantzakis. epic poetry continues to be written by a few individuals: Ruth Mabanglo. Judy Grahn. James Merril. and Frederick Turner. William Carlos Williams.-John Perse. significant non-confessional content.