Further reading

Minnis, A. J., V. J. Scattergood, and J. J. Smith. Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems. oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

Ruud, Jay. "Many a Song and Many a Leccherous Lay": Tradition and Individuality in Chaucer's Lyric Poetry. New York: Garland, 1992.

Jay Ruud

EPIC An epic poem is a long narrative piece focusing on the story of one or more heroic characters. Epic poets strive to craft serious and elevated poems that

166 EPIGRAM

express the values of their culture. Thus, epics often interweave the formation or lionization of a particular culture or nation into the narrative of their characters. Besides a heroic focus, other important classical conventions include epic similes, lengthy catalogues of characters or things, a plot beginning in medias res (in the middle of things), a journey to the underworld, and a statement of the epic theme. Beowulf is the earliest extant English epic, and while critics debate how well it fulfills the classical idea of the epic, the poem fulfills many of the criteria. For example, the poem begins with an extended recapitulation of Scyld Scef-ing and his heroic lineage, Beowulf appears in the midst of the uproar over Grendel's attacks, and he descends into the mere.

In his Defense of Poesy (ca. 1580), Sir Philip Sidney begins to fashion the epic as an important genre to create. Epic, he claims, is "the best and most accomplished kind of poetry." A contemporary work, The Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596), is an accomplished exemplar because its author was an accomplished student of classical and continental epic. Edward Spenser is not a pure epic poet, but he uses a number of the aforementioned epic conventions. For example, each of The Faerie Queene's six books states a different epic theme, there is a catalogue of the descendants and exploits of Brutus (the ostensible founder of Britain), and the lady Duessa descends into hell.

See also classical tradition, epyllion.

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