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FURTHER READING
Related Poems
The Odyssey, Book I, Lines 1-20
by Homer
Canto I
by Ezra Pound
Don Juan [If from great nature's or our own abyss]
by George Gordon Byron
The Aeneid, Book I, [A grove stood in the city]
by Virgil
The Aeneid, Book IV, [So, you traitor]
by Virgil
The Aeneid, Book VI, [First, the sky and the earth]
by Virgil
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Poetic Form: Cento
Poetic Form: Elegy
Poetic Form: Epigram
Poetic Form: Ode
Poetic Form: Sapphic
Poetic Forms: Abecedarian and Acrostic
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by Rachel Zucker
Groundbreaking Book: The Cantos by Ezra Pound (1925)
Groundbreaking Book: The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson (1960)
Poetry Glossary
Related Authors
Homer
Little is known about the life of Homer; the author credited with...
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Virgil
 Virgil
On October 15, 70 B.C.E. Publius Vergilius Maro, known in English as Virgil or Vergil, in the farming village of Andes, near Mantua, in northern Italy...
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Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
Born in 1688, Alexander Pope's poetry often used satire to comment on society and politics...
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Dante Alighieri
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The author of La Commedia (The Divine Comedy), considered a masterwork of...
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Related Pages
Forms & Techniques
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Poetic Form: Epic

 

An epic is a long, often book-length, narrative in verse form that retells the heroic journey of a single person, or group of persons. Elements that typically distinguish epics include superhuman deeds, fabulous adventures, highly stylized language, and a blending of lyrical and dramatic traditions.

Many of the world's oldest written narratives are in epic form, including the Babylonian Gilgamesh, the Sanskrit Mahâbhârata, Homerís Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgilís Aeneid. Both of Homer's epics are composed in dactylic hexameter, which became the standard for Greek and Latin oral poetry. Homeric verse is characterized by the use of extended similes and formulaic phrases, such as epithets, to fill out the verse form. Greek and Latin epics frequently open with an invocation to the muse, as is shown in the opening lines of the Odyssey:

SPEAK, MEMORY--
Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.

Speak
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried--
The fools--destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return.

Over time, the epic has evolved to fit changing languages, traditions, and beliefs. Poets such as Lord Byron and Alexander Pope used the epic for comic effect in Don Juan and The Rape of the Lock. Other epics of note include Beowulf, Edmund Spenserís The Faerie Queene, Dante's Divine Comedy, and John Miltonís Paradise Lost. The epic has also been used to formalize mythological traditions in many cultures, such as the Norse mythology in Edda and Germanic mythology in Nibelungenlied, and more recently, the Finnish mythology of Elias Lönnrotís Kalevala.

In the twentieth-century, poets expanded the epic genre further with a renewed interest in the long poems. The Cantos by Ezra Pound, Maximus by Charles Olson, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford, and Paterson by William Carlos Williams, while not technically epics, push and pull at the boundaries of the genre, re-envisioning the epic through the lens of modernism.


Examples of excerpts from works in the Epic form:

The Aeneid, Book I, [A grove stood in the city]
by Virgil

The Cantos, Canto I
by Ezra Pound

Don Juan [If from great nature's or our own abyss]
by George Gordon Byron

Inferno, Canto I
by Dante Alighieri

The Odyssey, Book I, Lines 1-20
by Homer




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