Epic: a general discussion

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Offline cmkhasan

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Epic: a general discussion
« on: August 28, 2009, 01:09:30 AM »
It is very necessary for the students of the English literature to know about Epic. I hope my discussion will help to understand Epic.


The epic is a long narrative poem on a great and serious subject, related in an elevated style, and centered on a heroic or quasi-divine figure on whose action depend the fate of a tribe, a nation, or the human race. The traditional epics were shaped by a literary artist from historical and legendary materials which had developed in the oral traditions of his nation during a period of expansion and warfare.

Epic Conventions or characteristics:
1.   The hero is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance, usually the ideal man of his culture. He often has superhuman or divine traits.  He has an imposing physical stature and is greater in all ways than the common man.
2.   The setting is vast in scope. It covers great geographical distances, perhaps even visiting the underworld, other worlds, and other times.
3.   The action consists of deeds of valor or superhuman courage (especially in battle).
4.   Supernatural forces interest themselves in the action and intervene at times. The intervention of the gods is called "machinery."
5.   The style of writing is elevated, even ceremonial.
6.   Additional conventions: certainly all are not always present
•   Opens by stating the theme of the epic.
•   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.
•   Narrative opens in media res (in the middle of things) usually with the hero at his lowest point.  Earlier portions of the story appear later as flashbacks.
•   Catalogs and genealogies are given. These long lists of objects, places, and people place the finite action of the epic within a broader, universal context. Oftentimes, the poet is also paying homage to the ancestors of audience members.
•   Main characters give extended formal speeches.
•   Use of the epic simile.  A standard simile is a comparison using "like" or "as."  An epic or Homeric simile is a more involved, ornate comparison, extended in great detail.
•   Heavy use of repetition and stock phrases. The poet repeats passages that consist of several lines in various sections of the epic and uses Homeric epithets, short, recurrent phrases used to describe people, places, or things.  Both made the poem easier to memorize.
•   Aristotle described six characteristics: "fable, action, characters, sentiments, diction, and meter." Since then, critics have used these criteria to describe two kinds of epics:
Serious Epic
•   fable and action are grave and solemn
•   characters are the highest
•   sentiments and diction preserve the sublime
•   verse    

Comic Epic
•   fable and action are light and ridiculous
•   characters are inferior
•   sentiments and diction preserve the ludicrous
•   verse

When the first novelists began writing what were later called novels, they thought they were writing "prose epics." Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson attempted the comic form. Yet what they wrote were true novels, not epics, and there are differences.

The Epic
•   oral and poetic language
•   public and remarkable deeds
•   historical or legendary hero
•   collective enterprise
•   generalized setting in time and place
•   rigid traditional structure according to previous patterns    

Comic Epic
•   written and referential language
•   private, daily experience
•   humanized "ordinary" characters
•   individual enterprise
•   particularized setting in time and place
•   structure determined by actions of character within a moral pattern

Homer, the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Epic Poetry." Based on the conventions of Homer classical epics began with an argument and an invocation to a guiding spirit, then started the narrative in medias res (Latin for "into the midst of affairs (lit. into mid-affairs)"). In modern use, the term, "epic," is generally applied to all lengthy works on matters of great importance. The Rhapsodoi, professional Reciters, memorized his work and passed it on by word of mouth as part of an oral tradition.
Epic can be considered three of types. They are categorized by some specific features such as subject dealings, characterization, and settings etc. They are listed below-

Folk Epic:
Epic verse may be classified either as folk or as literary epic. Folk, or popular, epics are believed to have developed from the orally transmitted folk poetry of tribal bards or other authors; they were eventually transcribed by anonymous poets. Well-known examples of the folk epic are the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf (written sometime between the 8th century and the late 10th century).

Literary Epic:
Literary, or art, epics are the creation of known poets who consciously employ a long-established form. Like folk epics, literary epics deal with the traditions, mythical or historical, of a nation. The Iliad and the Odyssey are regarded as literary epics. John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) is the best literary epic in English literature.

The Mock Epic:
A type of epic derived from the serious epic is the mock epic, which satirizes contemporary ideas or conditions in a form and style burlesquing the serious epic. Example of mock epic is The Rape of the Lock (1712) by the English poet Alexander Pope.

Some useful links regarding the better understand of epic  I have enlisted below-

1.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_poetry
2.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf
3.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_poetry
4.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost

Md. Kumrul hasan
Department of English
« Last Edit: November 08, 2009, 12:06:57 PM by cmkhasan »
Md. Kumrul Hasan
BA (Hon's), MA in English Literature
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