Reed Way Dasenbrock
Any conference devoted to a reconsideration of the epic ought to be reminded—if any reminders are necessary—that the epic as a genre has had a generally bad press in the twentieth century. If epic was once the king of the genres, it has been dethroned as thoroughly as many other kings. Those of us gathered here may be roughly the equivalent of a French or Italian royalist party, seeking to promote a form of life utterly eclipsed in the actual historical conditions in which we live.
Before we decide too quickly whether that comparison is appropriate or bizarre, we need to look for a moment at why the epic has come under such criticism. There is a simple explanation for this, which has to do with the changing relation between culture and war. In a heroic age and as long as aristocratic values dominate, this relationship is close rather than hostile. Sir Philip Sidney praises epic verse as "the best and most accomplished kind of poetry" primarily because of the exemplarity of heroes of epic poetry, a connection caught in his (and his epoch's) term for such poetry, heroic or "heroical" verse (Sidney 1962, 434). His understanding of the epic—in contrast to Aristotle's—focuses almost entirely on the heroes or protagonists of the poems, and a major part of his defense of poetry has to do with the exemplarity of their heroes. If heroic poetry can