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Aula 9 - SEMINÁRIOS EM LÍNGUA INGLESA DISCURSO LITERARIO

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Se mi nári os e m n gua Ingl esa: Dis curso Li te rári o
Au la 9 The epi c
In our prev ious cl ass, we starte d a di scussi on on l i te rary ge nre s. We saw that, i n the past, A ri stotle di vi de d li te rary
ge nre s in to thre e categorie s: the Lyri c, the Dramati c and the Epi c.
We have alre ady stud ie d the characteri sti cs and pe culi ari tie s of two of the m: the Lyri c and the Dramati c.
In this cl ass, we are going to study the Epi c ge nre , w hi ch i s ve ry di ffe re nt f rom the gen re s we’ve studie d so far in
te rms of content and style .
The Epic
Etymologi cal ly, the word ‘epi c’ come s f rom the ancien t Gree k work ‘e pos , whi ch me ans to tell a story’ .
Ori gi nall y, this li terary gen re was pre se nte d as an oral narrati ve , whi ch i nvolved the uni ty of autho r, the work , and
the audie nce.
In the cl assi cal fo rmul ation proposed by Ari stotle, the Epi c refe rred ex cl usively to the poe ti c e pi c. The Epi c was
wri tte n i n ve rse form ( a composition wri tte n i n me tri cal feet fo rmi ng rhyth mi cal l ines) and was usual ly epi sodi c.
Ab rams (1988) defined the Epi c as:
[ A lo ng non-stanza ic] po em on a grea t and serio us su bj ect, told in an elev ated style, an d centered on a heroic or
qu as i-d ivine f igure on whose actions dep ends the fa te of a tribe, a na tion, or the human race.
Characte risti cs of the cl assi cal Epi c p oem
Bri efly spe aki ng, Epi c p oe ms have thre e mai n characteri sti cs:
They are lengthy ;
They are writte n i n an elev ate d language ;
They are writte n i n thi rd person .
Let’ s tal k about e ach of the se characte ri sti cs in tu rn.
1- Le ngthi ne s s
The Epi c w as i ndee d ve ry le ngthy, and this characte risti c was due to the fact that the l engthi e r the poe m, the more i t
refle cte d the magni tud e of the subj e ct i t d eal t wi th.
The Epi c p oe t would write abou t dei ties and human he roes ’ ex pl oi ts that affected e nti re ci vi li zati ons, or even
manki nd .
The Epi c is basi cally conce rned wi th :
Moral ideal s ( e.g. se x, war and vi olen ce, the di stri buti on of we al th, foo d and al cohol etc) ;

Gi ving spi ri tual si gni fi cance to hi stori cal e ve nts (that i s, the he ro’s courage and de te rmi nati on, as well as the triump h
of his peopl e i s divinel y ordai ne d. )
The Aene i d, which was wri tte n by the l ati n e pi c poe t V i rgil in the 1st ce ntury BC, is composed of twe lve
book s. The poe m tel l s us about Ae ne as, the Troj an, and hi s jou rne y to Ital y, whe re he be came the ance stor
of the roman pe opl e.
Be owulf i s an ol d engli s h he roi c e pi c poe m of anonymous authorshi p. I t was probably written be twe en the
8th and the 11th cen turie s and i s noted for i ts le ngth: 3183 l in es . The poem i s abou t h ow the yo ung warri or
Be owulf de fe ats Gre ndel, a huge man-li ke ogre , who had be en attacking He orot, the mead hall i n De nmark,
and i ts i nhabi tants. He al so fi ghts two othe r enemies, bef ore he’s fatal ly woun de d in his last battle .
Paradise Lost was wri tten i n the 17th cen tury by the Engli sh poe t John Mi l ton . It s compose d of 12 books .
The poe m te ll s us the Judeo- Chri sti an story of the fall of me n, i .e ., the story of Adam and Eve , the temp tation
of fe re d by Satan, and the i r e xpul sion from the Garde n of Ede n.
2- El ev ate d l anguage
The Epi c p oe m di d not co nce rn e ve ryday aff ai rs or common people . In ste ad, i t tre ate d se rio us aff ai rs and de scri b ed
the hi gh qualities of heroe s and dei ti es.
Due to thi s reason, the Epi c p oem was wri tte n i n an e le vated or di gni fied language , in orde r to re flect the
i mportance of its su bje ct mate ri al .
3- Wri tte n i n thi rd pe rson
An othe r feature of the cl assi cal Epic is that i t’s wri tten in thi rd pe rson, w hi ch me ans that it’s a story that hap pe ns to
pe ople othe r th an the author.
No ne the less , it s poss ib le to identify the pre se nce of the write r. In fact, some ti me s he spe aks i n fi rst pe rson (e.g.
wh en he is in voking the muses for i nspi rati on the in vocati on ), and, at o the r ti me s, he re ports the di re ct spee ch of
the characte rs.
The follo wi ng chart s ummarizes the Epi c f eatures.

The characteristi cs of the mode rn Epic
The characte ri sti cs of the cl assi cal Epi c we ve just discusse d remained basi call y the same unti l the ei ghteen th
ce ntury.
From then on, the Epi c, the Drama and the Lyri c have some wh at me rge d, gi vi n g rise to othe r ge nre s, whi ch are not
stati c and wel l de fi ne d, but conti nuous.
Accordi ng to Hi rsch (2014) :
They [literary genres] ha ve blurred, tran smu ted, cross ed bo un da ries. Readers ex perience ho w the na rrative or
sto rylike element drives lyric po ems; ho w the mus ica l element, th e rhy th m of emo tion s, charg es narrative po ems;
ho w th e element of dram atic p roj ection empowers man y na rratives, many lyrics.
These va rieties are con tin uou s, like the un iverse. All have their origin in relig iou s practice an d ritua l.
Some ex ampl es of the se mixe d-ki nd ge nres, jus t to name a few, are:
The Nov el
The Fol ktal e
The Fabl e
The fai ry tale
The short story
It’ s inte re s ti ng to note that of all the se , onl y the romance and the novel have kept the Epi c tradi ti on of le ngth.
Consi der the following ex cerpt from the nov el Gre at Ex pe ctati ons, by Charl es Di cke ns, ju st as an i ll us tration.
My fa ther’s family nam e being Pirrip , and my Ch ristian name Philip, my inf ant tongu e could make of b oth names
no thin g longer or mo re ex plicit tha n Pip. So , I called mys elf Pip, and came to be ca lled Pip.
I give Pirrip as my fa ther s family name, on the au t ho rity of his to mbs ton e and my sister - M rs. Joe Ga rgery, who
ma rried the blacks mith. As I nev er saw my fa ther or my moth er, and n ever saw any likeness of eith er of th em (fo r
their da ys w ere lon g bef ore th e day s of photog rap hs) , my first fa ncies rega rding wh at they were lik e, were
un reas on ably derived from their tombs to nes.
The shape of the letters on my f ath er’s, g av e me a n od d idea th at he w as a square, sto ut, d ark ma n, with curly black
ha ir. From the chara cter and turn o f the inscription , ‘A lso Geo rgia na Wife of the Ab ov e,’ I drew a child ish conclus ion
tha t my moth er was f reckled an d sickly.
To f iv e little sto ne lozeng es, each ab ou t a fo ot and a h alf lo ng , which were arran ged in a neat row beside their gra ve,
an d w ere s acred to the memo ry of five little b ro thers of mine - wh o gav e up trying to get a living , ex ceeding ly early in
tha t un iversal s trug gle - I am ind ebted for a belief I relig iou sly enterta ined tha t th ey had all been bo rn on th eir backs
with their han ds in their trou sers-pockets, a nd h ad n ever taken them ou t in this state of ex istence.
Theref ore , we can say that e ve n though the cl assi fi cati on of literary ge nre s into Lyri c, Drama and Epi c proposed by
Ari stotle is use f ul , i t’s al s o a flawed one basi call y be cause it s not re all y an e as y j ob to dist ingui sh the m so cl e arl y.
Actually, if we anal y ze the m close ly e nough, w e ll se e that thei r boundaries are bl urre d. Howeve r, this cl assi fi cati on
i s espe cial ly useful fo r di dacti c purpose s.