Epic and Romance

Dennis Looney

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Epic and Romance

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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Epic and romance are distinct literary genres that poets combine in some of the most effective narrative poems of the early modern period, such as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Critics refer to these sorts of poems variously as “romance” or “romantic epics” or “epic romances” or “chivalric epics” or “heroic poems,” with each designation emphasizing a slightly different part of, or way of looking at, the hybrid literary form. To simplify greatly, one might say that the focus of epic is war, whereas that of romance is love. Renaissance rewritings of epic often include catalogues of armies, elaborate battles, extended similes, and funeral games; in addition to love, romance narratives tend to focus on adventure, magic, disguise, and flight. The primary goal of Renaissance humanism, the pedagogical movement that began in Italy in the 14th century and spread out from there over the following centuries, was the revitalization of contemporary culture through the recuperation of antiquity. Classical epic was a genre that humanistically inspired poets were eager to adapt to modern literary culture to establish the value of their own respective vernacular traditions. Canonical models like Homer and Vergil, as well as more adversarial and disputed ones, such as Ovid, Lucan, and Statius, served well. There is a tradition of prose romances in antiquity, and there are many romance-like passages in classical epic, but when critics speak of the romance tradition that a poet like Ariosto used, they generally mean Arthurian romances or the “matter of Britain.”This was a vast body of work codified in literary form by Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century, which was the inspiration for numerous romance works, prose and poetry, in different vernaculars from the medieval through the early modern period. The combination of epic and romance conventions and themes into a single literary work, then, is a fusion of elements of classical antiquity and literary medieval culture.

Article.  5051 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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