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Epic Poem: A Definition

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Epic, a poem of the narrative kind, dealing with a series of events or actions of permanent interest. Some authorities restrict the term to narrative poems written in a lofty style and describing the exploits of heroes. Others widen the definition so as to include not only long narrative poems of romantic or supernatural adventure, but also those of an historical, legendary, mock-heroic, or humorous character.

Epic poetry is distinguished from drama in so far as the author frequently speaks in his own person as narrator; and from lyrical poetry by making the predominant feature the narration of action rather than the expression of emotion. Among the more famous epics of the world's literature may be noted: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Æneid, the GermanNibelungenlied, the Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf, the French Song of Roland, Dante's Divina Commedia, Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata, Ariosto'sOrlando Furioso, Milton's Paradise Lost, Spenser's Faerie Queene, Camoens' Lusiads (Portuguese), and Firdusi's Shah Namah (Persian). Hesiod'sTheogony, the Elder Edda, the Finnish Kalevala, and the Indian Mahâbhârata may be described as collections of epic legends. The historical epic has an excellent representative in Barbour's Bruce; and specimens of the mock-heroic and humorous epic are found in The Battle of the Frogs and MiceReynard the Fox, Butler's Hudibras, and Pope's Rape of the Lock.—Bibliography: Chassang and Marcou, Les Chefs-d'œuvre épiques de tous les peuples; W. M. Dixon, English Epic and Heroic Poetry; A. Lang, Homer and the Epic.


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