The Book of the Epic: The World's Great Epics Told in Story

The Book of the Epic: The World's Great Epics Told in Story

The Book of the Epic: The World's Great Epics Told in Story

The Book of the Epic: The World's Great Epics Told in Story

Excerpt

Derived from the Greek epos, a saying or oracle, the term 'epic' is generally given to some form of heroic narrative wherein tragedy, comedy, lyric, dirge, and idyll are skilfully blended to form an immortal work.

"Mythology, which was the interpretation of nature, and legend, which is the idealization of history," are the main elements of the epic. Being the "living history of the people," an epic should have "the breadth and volume of a river." All epics have, therefore, generally been "the first-fruits of the earliest experiences of nature and life on the part of imaginative races"; and the real poet has been, as a rule, the race itself.

There are almost as many definitions of an epic and rules for its composition as there are nations and poets. For that reason, instead of selecting only such works as in the writer's opinion can justly claim the title of epic, each nation's verdict has been accepted, without question, in regard to its national work of this class, be it in verse or prose.

The following pages, therefore, contain almost every variety of epic, from that which treats of the Deity in dignified hexameters, strictly conforms to the rule "one hero, one time, and one action of many parts," and has "the massiveness and dignity of sculpture," to the simplest idylls, such as the Japanese White Aster, or that exquisite French medieval compound of poetry and prose, Aucassin et Nicolette. Not only are both Christian and pagan epics impartially admitted in this volume, but the representative works of each nation in the epic field are grouped according to the languages in which they were composed.

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