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  Epic (Greek, ‘formal utterance’) is a narrative of events, usually of a mythic or heroic nature and often involving the supernatural. Most early epics are in verse and many stem from the myths and legends of the society in which they arose. The origins of such epics are in oral literature, and their verse forms and structures have traditional roots. Some epic cycles have no acknowledged author and many, for example those from Aztec and Inuit myth, or the cosmologies of Africa, Australasia and the ancient Middle East, remain inchoate and regional. Others are more ordered, but still anonymous. For instance, even the Hindu Mahabharata, the grandest to acquire ‘literary’ form, was said to have been assembled not by an author but by a legendary sage, Vyasa, who dictated it to the god Ganesa. There are epics, however, that do show the influence of a single, shaping mind, giving order and sequence to disparate traditional elements. Homer\'s Iliad and Odyssey, and the Kalevala (assembled by Zacharias Topelius in the 1820s) are outstanding examples.

Literary authors have quarried epics of all these kinds, or written epics of their own. Some outstanding examples include, Virgil\'s Aeneid (building complex historical and political allegory on a framework of half-traditional, half-invented myth), Milton\'s Paradise Lost (treating biblical myth in part-Homeric, part-allegorical style) and Camoens\'s Lysiads (a Portuguese national epic based on the voyages of Vasco da Gama). In more modern times, the epic manner has been used in prose, giving density to such novels as Tolstoy\'s War and Peace and Herman Melville\'s Moby Dick.

Mock-epics are an almost equally popular form. They use epic techniques to deal with subjects which are frivolous rather than grand, sometimes just for fun (as in the Sindbad stories in the Arabian Nights), sometimes with ironical or satirical purpose (for example, Alexander Pope\'s The Rape of the Lock). Mock-epics include such ancestors or precursors of the novel as Petronius\' Satyricon, Cervantes\' Adventures of Don Quixote and Rabelais\' Gargantua and Pantagruel. The mock-epic style is common in Western fiction: Gogol\'s Dead Souls, Mark Twain\'s Huckleberry Finn, Proust\'s Remembrance of Things Past, James Joyce\'s Ulysses, Jaroslav Hašek\'s The Good Soldier Švejk, Thomas Mann\'s Confessions of Felix Krull and Joseph Heller\'s Catch-22 all make individual, and selective, use of it. KMcL



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Epic Theatre


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