Classify The Types of Epic

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      Attempts have been ever done by the literary scholars to classify the epic poetry into some standard types to be taken for granted universally. Yet, it hardly remains possible to universalize the proposed types of epics; rather scholars have attempted to mention some possible varieties of epics. For example, C.S. Lewis in his A Preface to Paradise Lost, distinguishes between primary and secondary epic poetry. But this classification also does not have any universal approval as such. Still a more or less standard classification often distinguishes between literary epic poetry and oral epic poetry. However, depending upon such distinctions, now let us once find the fundamentals of the above-mentioned four (and another) types of epics:

      (i) Primary Epic: This is an epic poetry which stems from heroic deeds and which is composed, in the first instance, in order that such deeds may not be forgotten. It is practical in purporting to record historical events and deals with the real world, “however much glamour may be added in the process”. Some good examples of primary epics are the Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, The Iliad etc.

      (ii) Secondary Epic: This epic may deal with heroic legend or with more abstract themes than the type available to primary epic, and which is composed, not as a historical record of the past. It is a poet’s artistic interpretation or re-creation of legend or theme: “Much is imagined and imaginary, so that a new world is created. The combination of the poet’s ‘seeing eye’ and his personal style together create something which is not based on reality, but has a life of its own to be transmitted to the mind of the reader”. The Æneid and Paradise Lost are often considered as secondary epics.

      (iii) Literary Epic: It is written and intended for a reading audience by a literate poet. This kind of epic generally coincides with C.S. Lewis’ secondary epic poetry and includes such works as the Aeneid of Vergil, The Divine Comedy of Dante, The Fairie Queene of Spenser, Jerusalem Delivered of Tasso, and Paradise Lost of John Milton. This category may, however, on occasion admit a poem that seems to be ‘primary’. This would seem to be the case with Beowulf, whose poet was most certainly literate in Anglo-Saxon and Latin, and who was familiar with Vergil’s Aeneid, which he consciously imitates in part, while attempting to preserve the historical deeds of a great hero of the past, as handed down by an Anglo-Saxon oral poetic tradition. So, literary epic poetry is poetry which has been composed and written down by a highly literate poet, who works in much the same way as we might write an essay or poem. Literary epic poetry belongs to the kind of literature that we are familiar with.

      (iv) Oral Epic: This is the heroic poetry that is composed for, and at the time of, oral performance. All the poems of this category would be considered ‘primary’ in C.S. Lewis’ scheme. In this sense, Beowulf is a great example of an oral epic. But oral epic poetry is not the same as literary epic, even when it is transcribed and published in book form. Oral epic poetry is not simply poetry that is written for the purpose of oral presentation from memory; rather, oral poetry is poetry that is composed orally - without the aid of writing or notes — on the spot — poetry that is actually created at the time of recitation. This different method of composition and delivery make different demands on an aural audience than the demands which are made on a reading audience. Because the audience may be more or less attentive at any given time, the poet must be able to modify his story to suit the audience - i.e. he must be able to be concise when the audience is not interested in details and must be able to expand his narrative by means of descriptions, similes, and other details when an audience is eager for such. Thus the aural audience plays a dynamic role in actual process of the creation of oral poetry.

      (v) Mock-Epic Poetry: Mock-epic poetry references classical works that use humor in order to make a new point. Because it draws on well-known heroes or literary themes, mock-epic poetry is often able to form observations about contemporary culture, religion, and social issues in a funny, meaningful style. Mock-epic (also known as a mock-heroic) poetry draws heavily on the technique of satire, which means that it uses irony, exaggeration, and sarcasm to mock its original subject, usually in an undignified and grandiose manner. One famous example of mock epic is The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope and its connection to Homer’s The Iliad. In The Rape of The Lock, Pope created sylphs, or guardian spirits, to mimic the classical gods we see in ancient literature. In the story, a young socialite, the Baron, decides to steal a lock of heroine Belinda s hair. The theft of a lock of hair speaks to the abduction of Helen of Troy in The Iliad. The powerful epic gods are reduced to minute sylphs who serve humans, rather than gods that use humans for their own purposes. So, here, we see how mock-epic when women were generally prized for beauty over their intelligence or contribution to society.

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