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Narrative or story-telling poetry, which relates events in an order of time, is divided into four types. These are (1) the great epic, (2) the metrical romance, (3) the ballad, and (4) the

metrical tale.

1 The term "epic" is sometimes applied to any narrative poem, but throughout this book it is used only with reference to the great epic as a type of narrative poetry.



Characteristics of the Great Epic.-The great epic is the most majestic type of poetry. It is a long narrative poem, the theme of which is so mighty in its scope that it reaches far beyond. the affairs of mere individuals to things concerning an entire people, nation, or even the world as a whole. Its subject-matter is taken from history, religion, legend, or mythology. The supernatural element is usually very pronounced, events being often. under its control. The action is, therefore, always on a huge scale, and the characters are mighty heroes, demigods, demons, or celestial beings. Events center in a prodigious effort or struggle to carry out some great and just purpose against powerful opposing forces, which are destined to be overcome in the end. In the great epic deep elemental passions are set forth, such as hate, revenge, jealousy, ambition, and love of power or glory. It is not a love story, though love may be present. Although there may be a moral, it is never summed up, but is embedded deep in the story itself. One of the most important characteristics of the great epic is that in it may be found practically all that has been given to civilization by a great religion, or by a whole race, nation, or people at a particular stage or period of development.

A character in a great epic is interesting to us for the part he has in furthering, or hindering, the accomplishment of the great struggle in which he is engaged, rather than because of his own individuality or personality. We think of him more in connection with the whole group than alone. The action, therefore, is much more prominent than the individual.

The great epic, as a story, is made up of many distinct parts or episodes. These are formed into books, or cantos, each practically complete in itself, and yet so bound together by a common relationship to some great hero, action, and time, that the result

is a single: poem of exceeding dignity and power. The large number of legends and stories out of which a great epic is made probably at first circulated orally, as tradition, being sung by many minstrels. At last some greater poet's eye saw the significance which lay in and around them, as parts of a larger action, and made them the expression of a whole heroic age. The author of a great epic never obtrudes himself upon the reader; in fact, the story seems almost to be telling itself.

As has been said, several of the great world epics appear to have grown up, as it were, among a people and to have been put in their final form by the last of a line of bards. The name folkepic is applied to such poems, since they have come straight from the hearts of the people. They are more simple than the literary epic, which is the conscious, more labored work of some literary man who deliberately chooses to use the epic form for a work of his own composition. "The Iliad," "The Odyssey," "Beowulf,’ and "The Nibelungenlied" are examples of the folk-epic, while "The Eneid," "The Divine Comedy," "Paradise Lost," "Paradise Regained," and "Drake" are literary epics.

The Great Epics of the World. The most important of the great epics of the world's literature are "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," by Homer; "The Eneid," by Virgil; "The Shah Namah," by Firdausi; "The Divine Comedy," by Dante; "Jerusalem Delivered," by Tasso; "The Lusiad," by Camoëns; "The Cid," author unknown; "The Nibelungenlied," author unknown; "The Song of Roland," attributed to Théroulde; "Kalevala," by Lönnrot; "Beowulf," author unknown; "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained," by Milton; and perhaps may be included with these "Drake," by Alfred Noyes.1

(1) The Iliad" and (2) "The Odyssey" are the great epics of ancient Greece. Although they have always been attributed to Homer, it is now believed that he was only the last of a number of poets who made contributions to the work. They bear his name because he was the one who gave them their final shape. They are, therefore, to be classed among the folk-epics. "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are considered to be the greatest examples of epic poetry in the literature of the entire world. They are of course largely products of the imagination, and, no doubt, idealize to a considerable extent the life depicted, yet in them may be

1 Besides these there are two great epics, "The Ramayana” and “The Mahabharata," produced by the Hindus, the events dating back to about 2000 B. C.

seen the essentials of Greek life in the Homeric age-its customs, manners, and ideals. Here we find their religious ceremonies, their methods of warfare, government, laws, household arrangements, industries, domestic relations, their buildings, ships, armor, weapons, dress, utensils, ornaments and fabrics.


(3) The Eneid" is the great epic of Rome. It is the conscious work of one writer, Virgil, who follows the struggles of Eneas, the great ancestor of the Roman people, and his band of Trojans until they finally succeed in establishing themselves in the promised land of Italy. Through a revelation made to Eneas by the shade of his father, Anchises, we also learn the subsequent history and glory of Rome down to Virgil's own time. Thus are summed up the important elements which contributed to the splendor and greatness of "Immortal Rome."

(4) "The Shah Namah" is the great epic of Persia and shows what she gave to civilization down to the tenth century B. C. This poem is the work of one man, Firdausi,' the "Persian Homer," who deliberately put in this form the history and traditions of his native land. An episode from this great epic has been written in English verse by Matthew Arnold under the title, "Sohrab and Rustum."


(5) "The Divine Comedy," by Dante, is the great epic of Italy and of medieval Christianity. As has been said, "All of mediaval history, science, philosophy, scholarship, poetry, religion may be reconstructed from a right reading and entire understanding of this single monumental poem." Dante divides his poem into three great parts. The first, called "The Inferno," consists of thirty-four cantos; the second, "Purgatory," has thirty-three cantos, and the third, "Paradise," also has thirty-three cantos. The great purpose to be accomplished in this epic is the salvation of the soul. This poem is one of the most difficult to follow and understand of all the great epics.

(6) "Jerusalem Delivered," by Tasso, is also a great epic of Christianity, but it deals with the time of the Crusades, which was two centuries earlier than that covered in "The Divine Comedy." The struggle set forth is to rescue the Holy Sepulchre from the Saracens.

(7) "The Lusiad," by Camoëns, is the great epic of Portugal at

1 Also spelled Firdusi. "Firdausi," meaning "Singer of Paradise," was the name applied to the author (whose real name was Abul Kasim Mansur) by the Shah of Persia for whom the poem was written.

2 Clayton Hamilton in Materials and Methods of Fiction.

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