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(Russian, epopeia), a monumental epic work that is distinctively concerned with general folk themes. In the early stages of literature the epopee was the prevailing type of folk epic; it depicted life’s most essential (or, as Hegel called them, “substantive”) events and conflicts—either the mythological conflicts perceived by the folk imagination as clashes between the forces of nature or the military clashes between tribes and peoples. The ancient and medieval epopees were lengthy poetic works derived either from the combination of brief epic legends or from the development (expansion) of a central event. Individual works were created by certain poets as later imitations of the folk epopee, including Vergil’s Aeneid and Voltaire’s Henriade.
Prose epopees arose from the type of epic literature that described social mores, revealing not the heroic emergence of a national society but rather its comic condition—for example, Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Dead Souls by N. V. Gogol, and Penguin Island by A. France. “Novels-epopees,” or epic novels, originated in 19th- and 20th-century novelistic literature, which showed the character development of individual persons and in which national and historical issues were explored in greater depth.
In some epic novels, such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Sholokhov’s The Quiet Don, the protagonists’ character development is subordinated to events that are measured on the national or historical scale. Another category is that of the “heroic-novelistic” epopees, in which the protagonists’ characters are formed in the process of their conscious and active participation in historical and revolutionary events—as they are in Peter the Great by A. N. Tolstoy and The Communists by L. Aragon.
G. N. POSPELOV