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A History of European LiteratureThe West and the World from Antiquity to the Present$
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Walter Cohen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198732679

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732679.001.0001

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Medieval Epic

Medieval Epic

Chapter:
(p.117) 5 Medieval Epic
Source:
A History of European Literature
Author(s):

Walter Cohen

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732679.003.0005

Medieval epic in the Western European vernaculars combines roots in oral poetry with the influence of Latin. The three main traditions—Celtic, Germanic, and Romance epic—are each relatively coherent groupings, but they share little with one another. Comparison with other epics of the time from Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia, and Northern Africa confirms this conclusion. On the other hand, an originally Iranian oral tale probably makes it way in heroic narrative as far west as Ireland, and possibly as far east as China. Transmission might have occurred via vast oral “literary” networks connecting much of the Old World. Hence, medieval Western European epic is in a sense pre-European: its unity exists at the level of the language group or of epic in general, but not in any intermediate, continental sense.

Keywords:   Medieval epic, Celtic epic, Germanic epic, Romance epic, Iranian oral tale, oral “literary” networks

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