Epic poetry

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Tablet containing a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh British Museum Flood Tablet.jpg
Tablet containing a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh

An epic poem, epic, epos, or epopee is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the moral universe that their descendants, the poet and his audience, must understand to understand themselves as a people or nation. [1]

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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. [2] The most famous example of classical epyllion is perhaps Catullus 64.

Epyllion short epic poem

In classical studies the term epyllion refers to a comparatively short narrative poem that shows formal affinities with epic, but betrays a preoccupation with themes and poetic techniques that are not generally or, at least, primarily characteristic of epic proper.

Romance (love) Type of love that focuses on feelings

Romance is an emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards another person, and the courtship behaviors undertaken by an individual to express those overall feelings and resultant emotions.

The Neoterikoi or Neoterics were a series of avant-garde Greek and Latin poets who wrote during the Hellenistic period. Neoteric poets deliberately turned away from classical Homeric epic poetry. Rather than focusing on the feats of ancient heroes and gods, they propagated a new style of poetry through stories that operated on a smaller scale in themes and setting. The time range in which these poets wrote is sometimes called the Neoteric period.

Etymology

The English word epic comes from the Latin epicus, which itself comes from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos), from ἔπος (epos), [3] "word, story, poem". [4]

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

Overview

Originating before the invention of writing, primary epics were composed by bards who used complex rhetorical and metrical schemes by which they could memorize the epic as received in tradition and add to the epic in their performances. Hence aside from writers like Dante, Camões, and Milton, Apollonius of Rhodes in his Argonautica and Virgil in Aeneid adopted and adapted Homer's style and subject matter, but used devices available only to those who write, and in their works Nonnus' Dionysiaca and Tulsidas' Sri Ramacharit Manas also used stylistic elements typical of epics.

Apollonius of Rhodes, was an ancient Greek author, best known for the Argonautica, an epic poem about Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece. The poem is one of the few extant examples of the epic genre and it was both innovative and influential, providing Ptolemaic Egypt with a "cultural mnemonic" or national "archive of images", and offering the Latin poets Virgil and Gaius Valerius Flaccus a model for their own epics. His other poems, which survive only in small fragments, concerned the beginnings or foundations of cities, such as Alexandria and Cnidus – places of interest to the Ptolemies, whom he served as a scholar and librarian at the Library of Alexandria. A literary dispute with Callimachus, another Alexandrian librarian/poet, is a topic much discussed by modern scholars since it is thought to give some insight into their poetry, although there is very little evidence that there ever was such a dispute between the two men. In fact almost nothing at all is known about Apollonius and even his connection with Rhodes is a matter for speculation. Once considered a mere imitator of Homer, and therefore a failure as a poet, his reputation has been enhanced by recent studies, with an emphasis on the special characteristics of Hellenistic poets as scholarly heirs of a long literary tradition writing at a unique time in history.

<i>Argonautica</i> Greek epic poem dated to the 3rd century BC

The Argonautica is a Greek epic poem written by Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century BC. The only surviving Hellenistic epic, the Argonautica tells the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece from remote Colchis. Their heroic adventures and Jason's relationship with the dangerous Colchian princess/sorceress Medea were already well known to Hellenistic audiences, which enabled Apollonius to go beyond a simple narrative, giving it a scholarly emphasis suitable to the times. It was the age of the great Library of Alexandria, and his epic incorporates his researches in geography, ethnography, comparative religion, and Homeric literature. However, his main contribution to the epic tradition lies in his development of the love between hero and heroine – he seems to have been the first narrative poet to study "the pathology of love". His Argonautica had a profound impact on Latin poetry: it was translated by Varro Atacinus and imitated by Valerius Flaccus; it influenced Catullus and Ovid; and it provided Virgil with a model for his Roman epic, the Aeneid.

<i>Aeneid</i> epic poem by Virgil

The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It comprises 9,896 lines in dactylic hexameter. The first six of the poem's twelve books tell the story of Aeneas's wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the poem's second half tells of the Trojans' ultimately victorious war upon the Latins, under whose name Aeneas and his Trojan followers are destined to be subsumed.

The oldest epic recognized is the Epic of Gilgamesh (c.2500–1300 BCE), which was recorded In ancient Sumer during the Neo-Sumerian Empire. The poem details the exploits of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk. Although recognized as a historical figure, Gilgamesh, as represented in the epic, is a largely legendary or mythical figure. [5]

<i>Epic of Gilgamesh</i> Epic poem from Mesopotamia

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia that is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about Bilgamesh, king of Uruk, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur. These independent stories were later used as source material for a combined epic in Akkadian. The first surviving version of this combined epic, known as the "Old Babylonian" version dates to the 18th century BC and is titled after its incipit, Shūtur eli sharrī. Only a few tablets of it have survived. The later "standard" version compiled by Sîn-lēqi-unninni dates from the 13th to the 10th centuries BC and bears the incipitSha naqba īmuru. Approximately two thirds of this longer, twelve-tablet version have been recovered. Some of the best copies were discovered in the library ruins of the 7th-century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.

Sumer Ancient civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia

Sumer is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and one of the first civilizations in the world along with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place. Prehistoric proto-writing dates back before 3000 BC. The earliest texts, from c. 3300 BC, come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr; early cuneiform script emerged around 3000 BC.

Gilgamesh Sumerian ruler

Gilgamesh was a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, a major hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, and the protagonist of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written in Akkadian during the late second millennium BC. He probably ruled sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC and was posthumously deified. He became a major figure in Sumerian legends during the Third Dynasty of Ur. Tales of Gilgamesh's legendary exploits are narrated in five surviving Sumerian poems. The earliest of these is probably Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, in which Gilgamesh comes to the aid of the goddess Inanna and drives away the creatures infesting her huluppu tree. She gives him two unknown objects called a mikku and a pikku, which he loses. After Enkidu's death, his shade tells Gilgamesh about the bleak conditions in the Underworld. The poem Gilgamesh and Agga describes Gilgamesh's revolt against his overlord King Agga. Other Sumerian poems relate Gilgamesh's defeat of the ogre Huwawa and the Bull of Heaven and a fifth, poorly preserved one apparently describes his death and funeral.

The longest epic written is the ancient Indian Mahabharata , which consists of 100,000 ślokas or over 200,000 verse lines (each shloka is a couplet), as well as long prose passages, so that at ~1.8 million words it is roughly four times the length of the Rāmāyaṇa , and roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. [6] [7] [8]

<i>Mahabharata</i> one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India

The Mahābhārata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. It narrates the struggle between two groups of cousins in the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes and their succession. Along with the Rāmāyaṇa, it forms the Hindu Itihasa.

<i>Iliad</i> Epic poem attributed to Homer

The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

<i>Odyssey</i> Epic poem attributed to Homer

The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other Homeric epic. The Odyssey is fundamental to the modern Western canon; it is the second-oldest extant work of Western literature, while the Iliad is the oldest. Scholars believe the Odyssey was composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia.

Famous examples of epic poetry include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh , the ancient Indian Mahabharata and Rāmāyaṇa , the Tamil Silappatikaram , the Persian Shahnameh , the Ancient Greek Odyssey and Iliad , Virgil's Aeneid , the Old English Beowulf , Dante's Divine Comedy , the Finnish Kalevala , the German Nibelungenlied , the French Song of Roland , the Spanish Cantar de mio Cid , the Portuguese Os Lusíadas, John Milton's Paradise Lost , and Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz .

Oral epics

The first epics were products of preliterate societies and oral history poetic traditions.[ citation needed ] Oral tradition was used alongside written scriptures to communicate and facilitate the spread of culture. [9] 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 contend that the most likely source for written texts of the epics of Homer was dictation from an oral performance.

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 of 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 poetry employs a meter called 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.[ citation needed ]

Composition and conventions

In his work Poetics , Aristotle defines an epic as one of the forms of poetry, contrasted with lyric poetry and with drama in the form of tragedy and comedy. [10]

In A Handbook to Literature (1999), Harmon and Holman define an epic:

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) [11]

An attempt to delineate ten main characteristics of an epic: [11]

  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 in 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 cultures.

Conventions of epics:[ citation needed ]

  1. Proposition: 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. [12] (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".

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 Sumerian epic poems did not use any kind of poetic meter and lines did not have consistent lengths; [13] instead, Sumerian poems derived their rhythm solely through constant repetition, with subtle variations between lines. [13] Indo-European epic poetry, by contrast, usually places strong emphasis on the importance of line consistency and poetic meter. [13] Ancient Greek and Latin poems were written in dactylic hexameter. [14] Old English, German and Norse poems were written in alliterative verse, [15] usually without rhyme. Italian, Spanish and Portuguese long poems were usually written in terza rima [16] or especially ottava rima. [17] From the 14th century English epic poems were written in heroic couplets, [18] and rhyme royal, [19] though in the 16th century the Spenserian stanza [20] and blank verse [21] 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. [22] In Russian, iambic tetrameter verse is the most popular. [23] In Serbian poetry, the decasyllable is the only form employed. [24] [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

Dactylic hexameter is a form of meter or rhythmic scheme in poetry. It is traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin and was consequently considered to be the grand style of Western classical poetry. Some premier examples of its use are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Hexameters also form part of elegiac poetry in both languages, alternating with dactylic pentameters.

The elegiac couplet is a poetic form used by Greek lyric poets for a variety of themes usually of smaller scale than the epic. Roman poets, particularly Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, adopted the same form in Latin many years later. As with the English heroic, each couplet usually makes sense on its own, while forming part of a larger work.

Homer name ascribed by the ancient Greeks to the legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey

Homer is the legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems that are the central works of ancient Greek literature. The Iliad is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek kingdoms. It focuses on a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles lasting a few weeks during the last year of the war. The Odyssey focuses on the ten-year journey home of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, after the fall of Troy. Many accounts of Homer's life circulated in classical antiquity, the most widespread being that he was a blind bard from Ionia, a region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey. Modern scholars consider these accounts legendary.

A heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used in epic and narrative poetry, and consisting of a rhyming pair of lines in iambic pentameter. Use of the heroic couplet was pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales, and generally considered to have been perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope in the Restoration Age and early 18th century respectively.

Poetry form of literature

Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

Moschus Ancient Greek poet

Moschus, ancient Greek bucolic poet and student of the Alexandrian grammarian Aristarchus of Samothrace, was born at Syracuse and flourished about 150 BC. Aside from his poetry, he was known for his grammatical work, nothing of which survives.

Mock-heroic, mock-epic or heroi-comic works are typically satires or parodies that mock common Classical stereotypes of heroes and heroic literature. Typically, mock-heroic works either put a fool in the role of the hero or exaggerate the heroic qualities to such a point that they become absurd.

Narrative poetry is a form of poetry that tells a story, often making the voices of a narrator and characters as well; the entire story is usually written in metered verse. Narrative poems do not need rhyme. The poems that make up this genre may be short or long, and the story it relates to may be complex. It is normally dramatic, with objectives, diverse and meter. Narrative poems include epics, ballads, idylls, and lays.

Articles related to literature include:

<i>La Araucana</i> Epic Poem of the Spanish conquest of Chile

La Araucana is a 16th-century epic poem in Spanish about the Spanish Conquest of Chile by Alonso de Ercilla. It was considered the national epic of the Captaincy General of Chile and one of the most important works of the Spanish Golden Age.

Heroic verse consists of the rhymed iambic line or heroic couplet. The term is used in English exclusively.

This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.

History of poetry

Poetry as an art form predates written text. The earliest poetry is believed to have been recited or sung, employed as a way of remembering oral history, genealogy, and law. Poetry is often closely related to musical traditions, and the earliest poetry exists in the form of hymns, and other types of song such as chants. As such poetry is a verbal art. Many of the poems surviving from the ancient world are recorded prayers, or stories about religious subject matter, but they also include historical accounts, instructions for everyday activities, love songs, and fiction. Many scholars, particularly those researching the Homeric tradition and the oral epics of the Balkans, suggest that early writing shows clear traces of older oral traditions, including the use of repeated phrases as building blocks in larger poetic units. A rhythmic and repetitious form would make a long story easier to remember and retell, before writing was available as an aide-memoire. Thus many ancient works, from the Vedas to the Odyssey, appear to have been composed in poetic form to aid memorization and oral transmission, in prehistoric and ancient societies. Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths, runestones and stelae.

<i>Aoidos</i> ancient Greek singer from the time of the poet Homer

The Greek word aoidos (ἀοιδός) referred to a classical Greek singer. In modern Homeric scholarship aoidos is used by some as the technical term for a skilled oral epic poet in the tradition to which the Iliad and Odyssey are believed to belong.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to poetry:

Folk poetry is poetry that is part of a society's folklore, usually part of their oral tradition. When sung, folk poetry becomes a folk song.

Oral-formulaic theory in Anglo-Saxon poetry refers to the application of the hypotheses of Milman Parry and Albert Lord on the Homeric Question to verse written in Old English. That is, the theory proposes that certain features of at least some of the poetry may be explained by positing oral-formulaic composition. While Anglo-Saxon epic poetry may bear some resemblance to Ancient Greek epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey, the question of if and how Anglo-Saxon poetry was passed down through an oral tradition remains a subject of debate, and the question for any particular poem unlikely to be answered with perfect certainty.

Sumerian literature Literature in Sumerian language

Sumerian literature is the earliest known literature and it was written in the Sumerian language during the Middle Bronze Age.

References

  1. Michael Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature (Bedford: St. Martin's, 2005), 2128. ISBN   0-312-41242-8.
  2. "Epyllion". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  3. "epic". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. Epic Online Etymology Dictionary
  5. Lawall, Sarah N.; Mack, Maynard, eds. (1999). Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition. 1 (7 ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 10–11. ISBN   978-0-393-97289-4.
  6. James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 399. ISBN   978-0-8239-3179-8.
  7. T.R.S. Sharma; June Gaur; Sahitya Akademi (2000). Ancient Indian Literature: An Anthology. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. p. 137. ISBN   978-81-260-0794-3.
  8. Spodek, Howard. Richard Mason. The World's History. Pearson Education: 2006, New Jersey. 224, ISBN   0-13-177318-6
  9. Jack Goody (1987). The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. Cambridge University Press. pp. 110–121. ISBN   978-0-521-33794-6.
  10. Aristotle: Poetics, translated with an introduction and notes by M. Heath, (Penguin) London 1996
  11. 1 2 Taken from William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 8th ed., Prentice Hall, 1999.
  12. Battles, Paul (2014). "Toward a Theory of Old English Poetic Genres: Epic, Elegy, Wisdom Poetry, and the "Traditional Opening"". Studies in Philosophy. 111,1: 1–34. doi:10.1353/sip.2014.0001 via Project MUSE.
  13. 1 2 3 Kramer, Samuel Noah (1963), The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, pp. 184–185, ISBN   978-0-226-45238-8
  14. Hexameter, poetry at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  15. Alliterative verse literature at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  16. Terza rima, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  17. Ottava rima, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  18. Heroic couplet, poetry at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  19. Rhyme royal, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  20. Spenserian stanza, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  21. Blank verse, poetic form at Encyclopædia Britannica.
  22. See: Trzynastozgłoskowiec, [in:] Wiktor Jarosław Darasz, Mały przewodnik po wierszu polskim, Kraków 2003 (in Polish).
  23. [Alexandra Smith, Montaging Pushkin: Pushkin and Visions of Modernity in Russian Twentieth Century Poetry, p. 184.]
  24. Meyer, Early Tahitian Poetics.
  25. Robert William Seton-Watson, The Spirit of the Serb.

Bibliography