Noting the resurgence of popular and academic interest in epics across disparate media, this essay proposes a theory of the epic genre that transcends particular media and cultures. It seeks to reconcile discussions of the epic in Aristotle, G.W.F. Hegel, Georg Lukács, Mikhail Bakhtin, Erich Auerbach, and Northrop Frye, arguing that traditional definitions of epic narrative are instead subsets of a greater generic structure. The epic is, following Gregory Nagy and Franco Moretti, among others, a literary “super-genre” that encompasses as many other kinds of narrative as possible. The essay explains how epic narrative, disembedded from earlier oral poetry, is then situated in new cultural contexts. Using the Roman epic as a paradigm, the essay also outlines a fourfold framework within which the interrelationship of the epic's symbolic content can be assessed. It concludes by suggesting some of the implications this theory has for new media epics in postmodernity.

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