Epic and Epoch: Essays on the Interpretation and History of a Genre

By Steven M. Oberhelman; Van Kelly et al. | Go to book overview
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Introduction
Criteria for the Epic:
Borders, Diversity, and Expansion

Van Kelly

The essays collected here trace epic practice and interpretation through a diversity of epochs. Artists considered include Homer, Vergil, Statius, Ovid, Dante, Spanish ballad makers, Icelandic masters of saga, Ronsard, Camões, Milton, Tasso, Balzac, Galdós, Pasternak, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Ezra Pound, and, most recently, an urban epicist, Gwendolyn Brooks. From pre-Homeric times, the epic's insertion into history has produced a heterogeneous body of productions and types: Milton's Paradise Lost is at an equal remove from Homer's Odyssey and from Ezra Pound's The cantos. When Vergil alters the original epic pretext, sending Aeneas and Ascanius beyond Troy, he simply carries out a process implicit in any evolution: new production entails diversity, through an alteration of its predecessors.

One of the tasks of genre criticism is to explain what one work uses, intact or modified, from the store of traits implicit in prior epics, and which of those traits it silences. The epic, through history, has also gradually redefined its borders with other genres and discourses—the lyric, tragedy, medieval geste, saga, the novel, memoirs, chronicle, and historical document, to mention the ones addressed in this volume. In turn, this diverse unfolding of the genre's potential has occasioned a corresponding variety of interpretive approaches. The aims of Epic and Epoch are less programmatic than

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