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. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, although even the works of such great poets as Homer, Virgil, Dante Alighieri and John Milton would 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. 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 which Ovid 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 The Aeneid.
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.
Epics have nine main characteristics:
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:
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.
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