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The epic ( ancient Greek ἔπος "word, verse", then also "the story, the poem"; Pl .: Epics ), outdated the epopoeia (from ἐποποιΐα epopoiïa "the creation of verse"), is a main form in antiquity alongside drama and lyric poetry the seal. Narrative poetry is summarized under the term epic . In modern times, epic is increasingly understood to be a large, extensive narrative.


The term comes from the ancient poetics based on Hesiod's theogony and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey . As defined by Aristotle 's poetics , the epic tells while the drama mimics. The term epic has always been applied to extensive narratives in other, also non-European cultures, which was considered unproblematic until the 20th century, but is now handled with greater caution.

The epic is part of poetry , but unlike the more recent novel, it is not necessarily literature , because its cultural significance does not require the handling of texts and the ability to read. The verse form of the epic, which serves as a reminder and aid in declamation, is related to the oral dissemination . Epics are about significant events in which gods or heroes are often the focus (see myth ). Ancient and medieval epics do not necessarily come from authors in the modern sense, so they are not individualistic and self-creative works. In the 18th / 19th In the 19th century, people tried to understand them as collective “folk poetry”, but this is not the case.

The ancient genus epic is determined by the scope and subject matter of the "sublime" style , the meter of the hexameter , typical action elements (armor, duel, mass struggle, burial, assembly of gods, meal, festivals), description of objects ( ekphrasis ), catalogs (lists ), linguistic formulas (partly from the tradition of oral tradition ), decorative epithets ( epitheta ornantia ), comparisons and an impartial, omniscient narrative attitude.

The modern works are often very specific counter-designs, which is why the term "Antiepos" was coined for them. With Hermann and Dorothea, Goethe turns the subject into the present and the bourgeois, and with Joyce's Ulysses , the epic becomes an anti-hero wandering in the space of a day. There was also a reference to pre-modern models: Carl Spitteler received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1919 for his renewal of the verse epic . Also about Theodor Däubler and Albrecht Schaeffer have written remarkable verse epics.

Verse form

The epics of Greek and Latin antiquity are written in the meter of the hexameter , which uses the quantity of syllables to structure verses and has no end rhyme . The main form of the old Germanic epic was the stick rhyming ( Beowulf , Heliand ). In the Middle High German and Old French epics, due to the different metrics , the pair-rhymed four-part verse is usually used, in which the novels are also composed.

Differentiation between epic and novel

The early novels up to around the 16th century are still predominantly in verse form and some have been passed down orally, so it is often difficult to distinguish them from the epic. Copying and memorizing were often related. The novella was distinguished from the epic by its topicality and tight brevity, and its written form was enhanced. With its large print runs, book printing created a clear distinction between epic and novel . He made narrative poetry "literature".

The most influential genre-theoretical approach is likely to be Georg Lukács' novel theory , which connects the epic with a lost state of nature: Epic is the creation of a "closed totality of life" with fixed life, value and social orders and a binding understanding of the world, while the novel is considered to be Expression of a private part of the world and an understanding of the world and order that has become problematic.

Franz Borkenau, on the other hand, describes the epic as a literary form of self-discovery after barbaric ages (for example after the Great Migration ). Hence, from his point of view, his adventurous actions originate. In court literature around 1200, both epo-typical and romantic-typical elements can be recognized for the first time, so that the courtly epic (especially the Arthurian novel) can be viewed as a transitional phenomenon that leads to the novel as the "epic main genre" of modern times .


Ancient epics

middle Ages

Renaissance to the present

See also


  • Manuel Bauer, Nathanael Busch, Regine T. Reck (Hrsg.): Texts on the theory of the epic. Reclam, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-019219-1 .
  • Erich Burck (ed.): The Roman epic . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1979, ISBN 3-534-04925-X .
  • Georg Lukács : Theory of the novel . 1916.
  • Georg Lukacs: The historical novel . 1937.
  • Handbook of the early Greek epic. 4 volumes from 1979 to 2010. Volume 4, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-525-25529-2 .

Web links

Wikiquote: Epic  Quotes
Wiktionary: Epic  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations