Epic poetry

Epic poetry or epic literature. Though by strict definition the term refers to the conventional epic or Homeric poem, it may be used as a general descriptive term to encompass all literary genres that evoke the impression of objectivity in their depictions of reality. Thus, epic literature may include the epopee, short story, short novel (povist), novel, numerous ballads of a specific type, and the didactic epos.

Old Ukrainian epic literature includes the chronicles, lives of saints, and translated romances and novellas (The Trojan War, ‘Aleksandriia’, the romance of Digens Akritas, Varlaam i Ioasaf [Barlaam and Josaphat], Povist’ o Akiri premudrom [Tale of Akir the Wise], etc). The texts of the original Ukrainian epics, with the exception of Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor's Campaign), have been lost; however, parts of them were incorporated into the northern Russian bylyny. The fact that some of the bylyny developed, in part, from 11th–13th-century Ukrainian ‘epics’ is, in most cases, indisputable (eg, the cycle of bylyny dealing with Prince Volodymyr, in whose character are combined the historical figures of Volodymyr the Great, Volodymyr Monomakh, and, possibly, Yaroslav the Wise; also, the bylyny dealing with the major heroes—Illia Muromets, Dobrynia, and Alosha-Oleksander Popovych).

New forms of epic literature, such as the folk duma, short story, and short historical poem, arose during the 16th and 17th centuries; however, the didactic epos, represented in the writings of Ioan Maksymovych, Yoasaf Horlenko, Semen Klymovsky, and others, had a greater significance. Epic travesties (mock epics), such as Ivan Kotliarevsky's Eneïda (Aeneid), appeared in the 18th century. The short story (Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko), the novel (Panteleimon Kulish), and a new variation on the epic poem—the Byronic poem (Taras Shevchenko, P. Kulish, and others)—all developed during the 19th century. Modern Ukrainian literature has concentrated primarily on the prose epic genres, although epic poetry has also been developed (eg, Maksym Rylsky's Maryna, Pavlo Tychyna's Skovoroda, Volodymyr Sosiura's Chervona zyma [Red Winter], Mykola Bazhan's Danylo Halyts’kyi [Danylo of Halych]; Leonid Pervomaisky's Trypil’s’ka trahediia [Trypylian Tragedy], Leonid Mosendz's Kanitfershtan and Volyns’kyi rik [Volhynian Year], Teodosii Osmachka's Poet, Yurii Klen's Popil imperii [The Ashes of Empires], Vasyl Barka’s Svidok dlia sontsia shestykrylykh [A Witness to the Sun of Seraphims] and Sudnyi step [The Steppe of Judgement]). In the Soviet-Ukrainian literature the long narrative poem (eg, Petro Doroshko's Viliuis’kyi viazen’ [The Prisoner of Viliuisk], Teren Masenko's Mariia Ul’ianova, and many others) was artificially cultivated and had little artistic value. One notable exception was Lina Kostenko's Marusia Churai. Kostenko has continued to write epic poetry in post-Soviet Ukraine (eg, Berestechko).

Dmytro Chyzhevsky

[This article was updated in 2002.]

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