The Folk Epic and the Literary Epic

Purpose and Characteristics

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An epic is the story of a civilization's values and meaning.

An epic is

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    A folk epic is such a story that evolves from the people of the civilization and their lives. It rises above the facts of those lives, although it is grounded in those facts, to the commonality of their human experiences, wisdom, and values.

    Legend has it that Homer, for example, no doubt grew up hearing the stories that epitomized the religions, history, legends, lessons, and supposed ancestors of his time and place, as we all do. Later, it is believed, he wove these individual stories into the tapestry that became his famous epics. He did not create the stories; they had come from hundreds of years of living and remembering and retelling from generation to generation. But he gave form or order to them, and therefore showed meaning, and more of it and on more of a truly profound level, many people believe, than anyone else has ever done. Well, maybe Shakespeare, but not with epics.

    So, he brought order to chaos. And, in art, order and form always show meaning, or a lack of it. And meaning is necessary for us to have the will to live.

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    A literary epic, on the contrary, is a deliberate creation by the artist-writer about a civilization or a people. It, too, may be based on long-ago histories or on long-ago literature.

    Alex Haley did that, or attempted to do that, with his book, ROOTS. Margaret Mitchell is said to have tried to do that with GONE WITH THE WIND.But writers such as Virgil most certainly did it with his Roman epic, THE AENIAD.

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Epic Conventions, which are as follows.

Back to The Greek and Roman Epic