What are the differences between epic and tragedy?

Introduction: Tragic drama and epic, according to Aristotle (384-322)BC, are two distinct forms of poetry. In the Poetics, Aristotle sets a comparison and contrast between epic and tragedy in a logical manner. According to him, tragedy is superior to epic, because tragedy has all the elements of epic. It is more effective, more influential and more inclusive than epic.

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What is tragedy and epic:

Before going further, let us have a look at the definitions of the tragedy and the epic. “Tragedy”, according to Aristotle,

” Tragedy is a representation of an action that is worth serious attention, complete in itself, and of some amplitude; in language enriched by a variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the play; presented in the from of action not narration; by means of pity and fear, bringing about the purgation of such emotions.”

On the other hand, in the Poetics, Aristotle also depicts about the epic poetry that, it is 

the art of representation in the form of narrative verse; clearly its plots should be dramatically constructed, like those of tragedies.”

Differences between Tragedy and Epic 

  1. Unity of place: The epic has an advantage. It can narrate a number of incidents happening simultaneously to a number of persons at a number of places. But tragedy cannot show more than one incident happening at one place at one time and one set of persons, because tragedy is bound with the conception of the unity of the place.
  1. Length: Epic poetry differs from tragic drama in its length of composition. Epic can be greater in length than tragedy. Because epic poetry has a great capacity for enlarging its dimension. The time limits of the epic are not fixed. But tragedy attempts to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, as far as possible. Though Aristotle does not settle this unity of the time, later critics have attributed it to him.
  1. Subject matter: Epic narrates an action, concerning the fortunes or destiny of a people or nation; and thereby it permits the life of an entire period. On the contrary, in tragedy, the emphasis of the subject is on an individual. Here the subject matter does not shift from the individual to the society.

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  1. Metre: Tragedy can have a variety of meters, but the epic is confined only to one meter, that is the heroic meter. According to Aristotle, the heroic meter or the hexameter is most dignified and stately. It can make use of rare and strange words. The tragic mode permits the use of metaphors, in the iambic and trochaic tetrameter. Aristotle says, nature or experience has established the appropriate meters for all forms of poetry.
  1. Narrative and dramatic: Another difference between the two forms is that, the epic uses the mode of the narrative, and the tragedy uses the mode of dramatic.
  1. Plot: The epic is in the form of narration, while action constitutes the form of tragedy. The plot of an epic is a story of suffering and it may be simple or complex. But, like tragedy, it must have unity. The epic naturally has a slow movement. Moreover it is a story of the past while the drama is a representation of a story in the present.
  1. Music and spectacle: Another obvious difference between the epic and the tragedy is that, tragedy contains music and spectacle, which are absent in the epic.

Conclusion: To sum up, we must say, tragedy is superior to epic. Because, tragedy has all the elements of epic, it is vividly presented to us, it is more concise and concentrated; and it has more unity.

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Mottaleb Hossain
Mottaleb Hossain

This is Motaleb Hossain, working on studying, a researcher on English literature and Theology.

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