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Epic beginnings

This week and next we begin by reading the epic Ramayana. When reading an epic, remember to keep in mind that it’s about more than art and entertainment.

In terms of form, an epic is usually a long narrative poem, which recounts the extraordinary deeds of an extraordinary individual, done on behalf of a community. This character is the hero, and is often semi-divine. Almost invariably, gods and other supernatural beings participate in the action, hurting or helping the hero. The language is heightened through the use of poetic devices to make the story more vivid and memorable. Even in a prose translation, the imagery should appeal to the reader’s sensory imagination.

Overall, it’s important to consider that the purpose of an epic is to preserve and transmit the vision of a culture. This vision includes the nature of the world, the place of humanity, and the causes of suffering and joy. Inevitably, the epic will crystallize this vision in the context of conflict and resolution, using the power of language and imagination.

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Epic Beginnings

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