Unbelievably Brief Reviews and/or Descriptions
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- Adams, Don. James Merrill's
Poetic Quest. Greenwood Press. Psychological study
of Merrill's symbolic system, focusing on Changing Light at Sandover.
- Ahl, Frederick,
and Hanna M. Roisman. The "Odyssey" Re-Formed. Cornell.
The remaking of the epic within the context of the "original" audience's
knowledge of myths and traditions.
- Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic
Imagination. Vital and useful theorist of orchestrated
voices or heteroglot scripts, as well as the more popular notion of
"carnival." Almost completely off-track about epic and about poetry
more generally, around which he constructs a monological death-cult.
But useful, nonetheless.
- Bawden, Charles, ed. and
trans. An Anthology of Mongolian Traditional Literature. Kegan Paul,
Mongolian oral and written texts, from clans to Soviet dominance. Includes
Histories, Legends, Didactic literature, Epics, Shamanistic Incantations,
Folk-tales, Myths, Sino-Mongolian Prose Literature, Lyrics and Other
Verse, and Reminiscences. Makes Mongolian traditions more widely available
for the first time. Not inexpensive.
- Bellamy, Elizabeth J. Translations
of Power: Narcissism and the Unconscious. Cornell, 1992. PN 56.P92 B346
1992. Elegant but difficult Lacanian analysis
of Renaissance epic and the translatio imperii.
- Bentley, D. M. Mimic Fires:
Accounts of Early Long Poems on Canadian History.1994. PR 9190.2.B46
- Bernstein, Michael. The
Tale of the Tribe: Ezra Pound and the Modern Verse Epic. PS 3531.082
C2836. Insightful discussion of modern verse epic
and its continuation of earlier traditions as (in Pound's terms) "a
long poem containing history." Particularly good on Charles Olson's
Maximus, as well as on Pound himself.
- Bhaba, Homi K. Nation and
Narration. 1990. PN 56.N19 N38 1990. Postcolonial
difficulties and delights of the marginalized, or better, those who
become centralized by being marginalized, and . . . . Involved theoretical
discussions, but useful and still courant.
- Biebuyck, Daniel P., Kahombo
C. Mateene, eds. and trans. The Mwindo Epic from the Banyanga (Zaire).
University of California, 1989.
- Blow, Douglas. Mirabile
Dictu: Representations of the Marvelous in Medieval and Renaissance
Epic. University of Michigan Press. Ambitious
attempt to read the magic of Virgil, Dante, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso,
- Bradley, A. C. "The Long
Poem in the Age of Wordsworth." Oxford Lectures on Poetry. 1908. London:
MacMillan, 1962: 177-205. Pleasantly short and
readable classic on the many attempts and failures of the 19th century
to provide a "poem of substance," one with a full Arnoldian "criticism
- Brown, Wallace Cable.
The Triumph of Form: A Study of the Later Masters of the Heroic
Couplet. 1948. Reprint Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,
1973. An extended but worthwhile study of
the couplet in the hands of Dryden, Pope, and other luminaries.
Points out the surprising flexibility of this "strictest and most limited
of all verse forms. Although not usually so considered, it is
the smallest possible stanza; the next step must be blank verse.
Since it is the most rigid poetic form, it is the one from which the
greatest variations are possible without destroying the basic pattern"
- Butler, Samuel. The Authoress
of the Odyssey. 1897. London: Fifield, 1908. The
inimitable Butler proposes that the Odyssey was written by a woman,
perhaps by Nausikaa herself. The occasionally enticing idea is picked
up by Robert Graves in his pleasant novel, Homer's Daughter. The more
specific Butler gets as to person, place, and time of composition, the
less convincing his argument is. However, when he focuses on the many
little oddities of the poem, as well as some of its overarching, thematic
repetitions, I am sometimes persuaded. Butler constructs a poem full
of powerful women, of women's domains, and a largely feminist one; but
his Odyssey is an odd conflation of Victorian England and the archaic
- Clark, John. A History
of Epic Poetry. London: 1900. A tendentious,
nationalist reading of the tradition.
- Clarke, Howard W. The Art
of the Odyssey. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967. One
of many "introductions" to the Odyssey. Opens with Fielding's famous
description of it as "that eating poem." And indeed, the act of eating
is referred to, on average, every fifteen lines.
- Collins, Christopher. Authority
Figures: Metaphors of Mastery From the "Iliad" to the Apocalypse. Rowman
& Littlefield. Working with metaphors that
promote accepting inequality and authority; Sarpedon, Eumaios, others
in Homeric epic, the Aeneid, and other sources, including the Book of
- Cook, Erwin F. The "Odyssey"
in Athens: Myths of Cultural Origins. Cornell UP. Explores
the Odyssey's creation of meaning through self-reference, reference
to other epic traditions, and through its relation to Athenian civic
ritual; argues less persuasively that the poem reached written form
during the reign of Peisistratos (c 527 BCE).
- Cook, Patrick J.
Milton, Spenser, and the Epic Tradition. Aldershot: Scholar
Press, 1996. John
S. Pendergast's Review
- Cross, Frank Moore. From
Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel. Johns Hopkins
UP. Israelite kinship and divine covenants.
- Dixon, William MacNeile.
English Epic and Heroic Poetry. London: 1912. A
more focused vision of the English tradition, notable for its colorful
prose, eccentric insights. Spenser's "licentious" and "irregular" verse,
- Dodds, E. R. The Greeks
and the Irrational. Berkeley: University of California Press,
1951. Classic study of Greek "psychology," parallel
in many ways to his contemporary Bruno Snell's Discovery of Mind.
- Doherty, Lillian Eileen.
Siren Songs: Gender, Audiences, and Narrators in the "Odyssey." University
of Michigan Press. Feminist reading of the Odyssey,
noting the deep ambivalence toward women in Odysseus and in the text
as a whole.
- DuBois, Page. History,
Rhetorical Description, and the Epic: from Homer to Spenser. 1982. PN
1303.D82 1982. A steady and helpful discussion
of ekphrastic description—the shields of Achilles and Aeneas, and, I
think, the tapestries of Busirane in the Faerie Queene.
- Erickson, Wayne.
Mapping the Faerie Queene. New York: Garland, 1996.
John S. Pendergast's
- Evans, J. Martin. Milton's
Imperial Epic: "Paradise Lost" and the Discourse of Colonialism. Cornell
UP. Connects Paradise Lost to New World colonialism.
- Falkner, Thomas M. The
Poetics of Old Age in Greek Epic, Lyric, and Tragedy. University of
Oklahoma Press. Examines the representation of
old age in Iliad and Odyssey, Oedipus at Colonus, Sappho's lyrics.
- Finucci, Valeria. The Lady
Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto.
Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992. Demonstrates
the applicability of subjectivity to the study of Renaissance epic.
- Frakes, Jerold. Brides
and Doom: Gender, Property, and Power in Medieval Women's Epic. 1994.
PT 202.F73 1994. The first book length study to
treat women's authorship of the German epics seriously. Focuses on Das
Nibelungenlied and Kudrun.
- Garmonsway, G. N., and
Jacqueline Simpson. Beowulf and its Analogues. New York: Dutton,
1968. One of those wonderfully useful books that
you didn't even know you needed until you ran across it. Collects (in
reasonable translation) many Old Norse, Icelandic, and Germanic passages
that provide a valuable synoptic reading for Beowulf.
- Gibson, Mary Ellis. Epic
Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians. Cornell UP.
Esthetics and politics in Pound's Cantos, especially in relation to
Robert Browning and other Victorians, historians as well as poets.
Marshall, ed. Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon. Lexington:
University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
Joyce G. MacDonald's
Review. High quality essays on the deep textured poet of Salve
Deus Rex Judaeorum. Includes essays by Mueller and Lewalski.
- Hägin, Peter. The
Epic Hero and the Decline of Heroic Poetry. 1967. Classic
account of the epic after Milton, with helpful descriptions of the numerous
not so good epics of the eighteenth century. Limited by its strict association
of the epic with the conventionally heroic. I recall it as highly readable.
- Hale, Thomas A. Griots
and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music. From the Travels of Ibn Battuta
to Alex Haley's Roots. Indiana UP, 1998. In this
book, Hale follows up on his earlier articles with a full chapter devoted
to the almost unknown griottes, or female performers of epic and other
oral genres. A substantial study of the preservers of oral tradition
in West Africa from the 14th century to the present.
- Hale, Thomas
A. Scribe, Griot, and Novelist: Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay
Empire. Followed by The Epic of Askia Mohammed Recounted by Nouhou Malio.
University of Florida Press and Center for African Studies, 1990.
Useful comparative study examining the variety of narrative techniques
and possibilities discovered in (a) 16th & 17th century Arabic chronicles
from Timbuktu, Mali, (b) a recently-recorded epic from Niger, and (c)
a modern novel in French from Mali.
- Hamner, Richard D. Epic
of the Dispossessed: Derek Walcott's "Omeros." University of Missouri
Press. First full-length study of the Walcott's
epic, to my knowledge. Available in paperback.
John R. Accidental
Grandeur : A Defense of Narrative Vagueness in Ancient Epic Literature
(Lang Classical Studies, Vol 1). 1989. An intriguing
exploration of uncertainty and suggestiveness in its own right. All
unknown oft passes for magnificent.
- Hayley,William. An Essay
on Epic Poetry. 1782. Gainesville, FL: Scholar's Facsimiles
and Reprints, 1968. The rather imitable Hayley
waxes eloquent in verse on this, the loftiest of genres.
- Heath, Peter. The Thirsty
Sword: Sirat Antar and the Arabic Popular Epic. University of Utah Press.
Reads the popular Arabic epic of pre-Islamic poet and warrior Antar
- Heinze, Richard. Virgil's
Epic Technique. Trans. Hazel and David Harvey Robinson. University of
California, 1994. The eagerly awaited translation
of Heinze's important work on Virgil.
- Hershkowitz, Debra. The
Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity From Homer to Statius. Oxford UP.
Expensive but well-developed discussion of the
use of madness in Homer, Virgil, etc.
- Hershkowitz, Debra. Valerius
Flaccus' Argonautica: Abbreviated Voyages in Silver Latin Epic. Oxford
UP, 1999. Looks at how the Roman poet shortchanges
Jason and Medea, starting a long tradition of European retellings.
- Hiltebeitel, Alf. Rethinking
India's Oral and Classical Epics: Draupadi Among Rajputs, Muslims, and
Dalits. University of Chicago Press. Aims at revaluing
relations between regional epic traditions and the Sanskrit classics
Mahabharata and Ramayana.
- Javitch, Daniel. Proclaiming
a Classic: The Canonization of Orland Furioso. Princeton, 1991. Reception
history of Ariosto's romance epic and an exploration of the forces that
confer canonical status. See
Daniel Traister's Review
- Joseph, Terri Brint. Ezra
Pound's Epic Variations: The Cantos and Major Long Poems. National Poetry
Foundation, 1995. According to John Espey, Joseph
argues that "Ezra Pound shaped his poetics to achieve two dominant
and related desires:
the first was for a poetry of truth, of what he called 'exact registration.'
The second goal, to free poetry from the arena of the purely aesthetic,
which he regarded as an imprisoning marginalization, would restore poetry
to its rightful place in society as a primary shaper of civilization.
The first of these goals led Pound to a poetics based on the image,
while the second impelled him toward the epic mode. Joseph explores
this fundamental tension within Pound's poetics by following his progress
from the short, imagistic poems of his earlier years toward the epic
mode of The Cantos. Individual chapters on "Near Perigord,"
Homage to Sextus Propertius, and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley allow Joseph
to explore this transition in depth. Ezra Pound's Epic Variations: The
Cantos and Major Long Poems serves more than a single purpose. It provides
a cogent introduction and discussion of three of Pound's most important
poems of a certain length; it creates a frame for the consideration
of Pound's entire corpus; it leads directly into an exploration and
a reading of The Cantos; it never loses touch with the poems themselves.
That Joseph achieves these ends tactfully and without resorting to jargon
is her personal success and the reader's gratifying reward."
- Kamboureli, Smaro. On the
Edge of Genre: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1991. Review
Essay by Manina Jones
- Karydas, Helen Pournara.
Eurykleia and Her Successors: Female Figures of Authority in Greek Poetics.
Rowman & Littlefield. Authoritative nurses
in Greek epic and tragedy.
- Knapp, Bettina L. Women,
Myth, and the Feminine Principle. SUNY Press. Discusses
women's representation in a variety of sources: epic poems, religious
writings, sacred tales,etc.; actually includes discussion of the Tibetan
myth Gesar of Ling and the Popul Vuh.
- Lateiner, Donald. Sardonic
Smile: Nonverbal Behavior in Homeric Epic. University of Michigan Press.
What we've needed since the Parry-Lord theory
was proposed, closer attention to the use of gestures, posture, and
other non-verbal behaviors in Homeric epic.
- Lau, Beth. Keats's "Paradise
Lost." University Press of Florida. Generously
presents an edition of Keatsian marginalia from his personal Milton.
- Lawrence, William W. Beowulf
and Epic Tradition. New York: Hafner, 1963.
Tries to fit the recalcitrant Anglo-Saxon poem in with the rest of the
- Looney, Dennis. Compromising
the Classics: Romance Epic Narrative in the Italian Renaissance. Wayne
State University Press. Explores classical and
other traditions in Ariosto, Boiardo and Tasso.
- Louden, Bruce. The "Odyssey":
Structure, Narration, and Meaning. Johns Hopkins UP.
Looks at a number of tripartite motifs to claim that the poem was transmittedwhole,
not reconstructed from smaller poems. I'm not sure that such a common
folkloric structure, and its familiar microstructural role as a tricolon
really vitiates the possible counterargument.
- Mackie, Hilary. Talking
Trojan: Speech and Community in the "Iliad." Rowman & Littlefield.
Examines Greek and Trojan speech to construct
cultural differences. Interesting follow-up to Parry and Redfield.
- McWilliams, John P. The
American Epic : Transforming a Genre, 1770-1860. Cambridge Studies in
American Literature and Culture. 1990. Well-researched
study of the genre from Dwight and Barlow up to Melville.
- Maley, Willy. Salvaging
Spenser: Colonialism, Culture and Identity. New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1997. Christopher
- Maresca, Thomas.Three English
Epics. 1979. One of the earliest arguments for
the psychological centrality to the genre of the descensus ad inferos,
looking, interestingly enough, at Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde as
well as Spenser and Milton.
- Martin, Catherine Gimelli.
The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of
Epic Convention. Duke UP. 1998. Focuses
on the translatio imperii, presenting Milton's epic as "meta-allegory"
foretelling the end of one culture and heralding its relief.
- Miller, Dean A. The Epic
Hero. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2000. A big
book (520 pages) attempting to eclipse the many studies of the epic
hero. A wide range—Odysseus, Beowulf, Mahabharata, Arthurian legend,
Ossetian tales—and (per the blurb) a "detailed typology of the hero
in western myth: birth, parentage, familial ties, sexuality, character,
deeds, death, and afterlife." Hero (famliarly) as ego-ideal or affirmative
product of social, cultural imagination. Substantial scholarship.
- Miller, James A. American
Quest for a Supreme Fiction: Whitman's Legacy in the Personal Epic.
PS 3236.M5. Groundbreaking assessment and exploration
of American epic, limited by the idea of the "personal" and by its avoidance
of similar shifts in epic in earlier times and across the Atlantic.
- Monteiro, George. The Presence
of Camoes: Influences on the Literature of England, America, and Southern
Africa. University Press of Kentucky. Influence
of Camoes and his Lusiads on many, but particularly on the Americans:
Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan
- Montgomery, Thomas.
Medieval Spanish Epic: Mythic Roots and Ritual Language.
Penn State Press. 1998. Explores the adaptation
of the young warrior's initiation myth in medieval Spanish epic: Siete
Infantes de Lara, Mocedades de Rodrigo, and the inevitable Poema de
- Moretti, Franco.
Modern Epic: The World System from Goethe to Garcia Marquez.
Trans. Quentin Hoare. London: Verso, 1996. Eduardo
Gonzalez - Review Essay: MLN 112:5
- Mori, Masaki. Epic Grandeur:
Toward a Comparative Poetics of the Epic. SUNY Press, 1997. Argues
(correctly) that the genre has moved away from its focus on war; later
chapters develop Keats's The Fall of Hyperion and Miyazawa Kenji's Night
on the Galaxy Railroad as "transitional epics," a term which undervalues
the continuing process of generic change.
Leonard. The Anger of Achilles: "Menis" in Greek Epic. Cornell University
A thorough reading of mythic, poetic, and social aspects of menis,
perhaps the most important word of the Iliad.
Michael. History and Warfare in Renaissance Epic. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1995.
- Nagy, Gregory. Homeric
Questions. University of Texas Press. 1997. Nagy
tries to reconstruct the evolution of the Homeric epic on the basis
of relatively contemporary oral epic traditions.
- Newman, John Kevin. The
Classical Epic Tradition. 1986. Substantial study
of Homeric beginnings, and on the repeated Callimachean strategies and
attitudes of later Greek and Roman epic. There was the Iliad, and then
everyone else wrote footnotes to it, as Johnson suggested.
John D. Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.
Johns Hopkins, 1999. Aside from the unfortunate
oxymoron in the subtitle, an engaging exploration of the "storytelling
animal," in Anglo-Saxon, in 20th-century Scottish traditions, in early
Greece and the Grimm brothers' Germany. Stories are the chief basis
of culture, Niles claims. It's good to hear this tenet affirmed by someone
else. A pleasure to read, as with most of Niles's work.
- Oberhelman, Van Kelly,
and Golsan. Epic and Epoch: Essays on the History and Interpretation
of a Genre. 1994. PN 1303.E59 1994. Uneven collection,
using a wide range of definitions.
- Parks, Ward. Verbal Dueling
in Heroic Narrative: The Homeric and Old English Traditions. Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1990. The most thorough study of
'flyting' or the war of words—like that between Beowulf and Unferth—to
- Pavlock, Barbara. Eros,
Imitation, and the Epic Tradition. Cornell, 1990. PA 3022.E6 P38 1990.
Ambitious range but less depth in this moderately slender, moderately
- Pearce, Roy Harvey.
Continuity of American Poetry. 1961. See
especially his first section on "The Long View: An American Epic,"
which looks at the magniloquent Barlow, among others, to discuss the
formation of a "plotless epic," one which creates rather than celebrates
- Pemberton, Henry. Observations
on poetry : especially the epic : occasioned by the late poem upon Leonidas.
London : Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1994. Reprint
of Pemberton's (1738) comments on Richard Glover's Leonidas (and other
- Piper, William Bowman.
The Heroic Couplet. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve UP,
1969. More historical interest than
Brown's work on the couplet, this one begins with Chaucer, Gavin Douglas'
Eneados, Spenser's tale of Mother Hubberd. Though he claims it
was "degraded and rejected" by the Romantic poets (4), Piper demonstrates
clearly enough that everyone else loves a good heroic couplet.
- Quint, David. Epic and
Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Vergil to Milton. 1993. PN 1303.Q56
1993. One of the more popular, readable, and useful
texts on epic in recent years, with straightfoward discussions of individual
poems, including (briefly) the Ossianic epics of James Macpherson. Limited
by the simplistic division of "winner's epics" and "loser's epic," but
a good read.
- Rajan, Balachandra. The
Form of the Unfinished. With Thomas McFarland,
one of the earliest writers to tackle the difficult problematic of the
fragment as a genre or form; his chapters on "The Major Unfinished"
are most pertinent to this page, as he examines Spenser and (puzzlingly)
Milton, moving on up to Eliot and—to a lesser extent—Pound.
- Rubino, Carl A. and Cynthia
W. Shelmerdine, eds. Approaches to Homer. Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1983. A number of engaging essays,
including the fascinating "Odysseus and Cyclops: Who is Who?"
- Sauer, Elizabeth. Barbarous
Dissonance and Images of Voice in Milton's Epics. McGill-Queen's University
Press. Evaluates the authority of the many voices
in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained
- Schneider, Steven P., ed.
Complexities of Motion: New Essays on A.R. Ammons's Long Poems. Fairleigh
Dickinson UP, 1998. Several sharply conceived
essays, many launching from from the newer branches of complexity studies
(or "chaos theory"). Significant names, including Miriam Clark, Marjorie
Perloff, Helen Vendler, and others, reading Garbage,Briefings, the relatively
recent (1997) Glare and the Tape for the Turn of the Year that started
it all (1965).
- Schulman, James L. "The
Pale Cast of Thought": Hesitation and Decision in the Renaissance Epic.
University of Delaware Press. Studies moments
of heroic decision (and indecision) in Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser, and
- Stevenson, Kay Gilliland,
and Margaret Seares. Paradise Lost in Short: Smith, Stillingfleet, and
the Transformation of the Epic. Fairleigh Dickinson UP. Reading
the operatic adaptations of Milton's Paradise Lost.
- Suzuki, Mihoko. Metamorphoses
of Helen: Authority, Difference, and the Epic. 1989. PA 3015.R5 H377
1989. Follows the representation of woman as ideal/scape-goat
of male fantasy, particularly as a way poets differentiate themselves
from their precursors. Personally, I was disappointed to see the book
follow "avatars" of Helen (in Dido, in Britomart, in Shakespeare's Cressida)
rather than Helen herself.
- Tillyard, E.M.W. The English
Epic and its Background. Classic definition of
epic and the "epic spirit," in texts at least as as diverse as Piers
Plowman and Shakespeare's History plays. Eminently readable, eminently
a product of its time (as are we all).
Mindele Anne. Allegorical Poetics and the Epic: The Renaissance Tradition
to Paradise Lost. Lexington: Kentucky, 1994.
C.D. Jago's Review.
- Van Nortwick, Thomas. Somewhere
I Have Never Travelled: The Second Self and the Hero's Journey in Ancient
Epic. 1992. PA 3022.E6 V36 1992. Bright, self-aware
study of Gilgamesh and other early epic. Happily makes you want to read
the poems again, more roundly.
- de Weever, Jacqueline.
Sheba's Daughters: Whitening and Demonizing the Saracen Woman in Medieval
French Epic. Garland. Much needed study of the
contradictory images of Saracen women: their fathers are "black devils"
in the medieval epics but they themselves are recuperated or "whitened"
as the potential lady-loves of the Christian knights.
- Wilhelm, James J. Dante
and Pound: The Epic of Judgement. National Poetry Foundation, 1974.
A comparative study of the life and work of Dante
- Wilhelm, James J. Il Miglior
Fabbro. National Poetry Foundation, 1982. Comparative
study of Arnaut Daniel, Dante Alighieri, and Ezra Pound, centered on
the question, "Why did these poets write such difficult verse?"
Wilkie, Brian. Romantic
Poets and Epic Tradition. PR 590.W4. A classic,
wonderfully readable study of some major Romantic epics, focusing
on the internalization of the quest, the repetition and repudiation
of key details and motifs from earlier epics as hallmarks of the genre
in the nineteenth century. My favorite line, which I quote again and
again, is that "to read the great epics in succession is like walking
through a hall of mirrors."
Wofford, Susanne. The Choice
of Achilles: The Ideology of Figure in the Epic. 1992. PR 2358.W6
1992. Substantial study of simile and its implications
from Homer to Milton. Theoretically aware, historically capable. Stephen
Nimis' book on the simile is oddly not in her bibliography.
- Zeitlin, Froma I. Playing
the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature. University
of Chicago Press. Gender relations divine and
human in drama, epic, other genres. Available in paperback