ⓘ Epigraph (literature)


ⓘ Epigraph (literature)

In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document, monograph or section thereof. The epigraph may serve as a preface to the work; as a summary; as a counter-example; or as a link from the work to a wider literary canon, with the purpose of either inviting comparison or to enlisting a conventional context.

A book may have an overall epigraphy that is part of the front matter, and/or one for each chapter as well.


1. Examples

  • The epigraph to Eliots Gerontion is a quotation from Shakespeares Measure for Measure.
  • The epigraph to Fyodor Dostoyevskys The Brothers Karamazov is John 12:24. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
  • A Samuel Johnson quote is used as an epigraph in Hunter S. Thompsons novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
  • As an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway quotes Gertrude Stein, "You are all a lost generation."
  • Stephen King uses many epigraphs in his writing, usually to mark the beginning of another section in a novel. An unusual example is The Stand wherein he uses lyrics from certain songs to express the metaphor used in a particular part.
  • The long quotation from Dantes Inferno that prefaces T. S. Eliots "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is part of a speech by one of the damned in Dantes Hell. Linking it to the monologue which forms Eliots poem adds a comment and a dimension to Prufrocks confession. *
  • Eliots "The Hollow Men" uses the line "Mistah Kurtz, he dead" from Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness as one of its two epigraphs.
  • Louis Antoine de Saint-Just’s quote" Nobody can rule guiltlessly” appears before chapter one in Arthur Koestler’s 1941 anti-totalitarian novel Darkness At Noon.
  • As the epigraph to The Sum of All Fears, Tom Clancy quotes Winston Churchill in the context of thermonuclear war: Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together – what do you get? The sum of their fears.
  • The epigraph to Theodore Herzls Altneuland is "If you will it, it is no dream." which became a slogan of the Zionist movement.
  • The epigraph to E. L. Doctorows Ragtime quotes Scott Joplins instructions to those who play his music, "Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play ragtime fast."
  • The epigraphs to the preamble of Georges Perecs Life: A Users Manual La Vie mode demploi and to the book as a whole warn the reader that tricks are going to be played and that all will not be what it seems.
  • Jack London uses the first stanza of John Myers OHaras poem "Atavism" as the epigraph to The Call of the Wild.
  • J. K. Rowlings novels frequently begin with epigraphs relating to the themes explored. For example, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows features a quotation from Aeschylus tragedy, The Libation Bearers.

1.1. Examples In films

  • The film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby opens with a fictional quotation attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt for comedic effect.

1.2. Examples In literature

  • The first and last books of Diane Duanes Rihannsu series of Star Trek novels pair quotations from Lays of Ancient Rome with imagined epigraphs from Romulan literature.
  • F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby opens with a poem entitled "Then Wear the Gold Hat," purportedly written by Thomas Parke DInvilliers. DInvilliers is a character in Fitzgeralds first novel, This Side of Paradise.
  • This cliche is parodied by Diana Wynne Jones in The Tough Guide To Fantasyland.
  • Fantasy literature may also include epigraphs. For example, Ursula K. Le Guins Earthsea series includes epigraphs supposedly quoted from the epic poetry of the Earthsea archipelago.
  • Some science fiction works, such as Isaac Asimovs Foundation Trilogy, Frank Herberts Dune series, and Jack McKinneys Robotech novelizations use quotations from an imagined future history of the period of their story.
  • Jasper Ffordes The Eyre Affair has quotations from supposedly future works about the action of the story.
  • Akame Majyos Time|Anthology begins each chapter with an excerpt from a fictional grimoire.
  • Dean Koontzs The Book of Counted Sorrows began as a fictional book of poetry from which Koontz would "quote" when no suitable existing option was available; Koontz simply wrote all these epigraphs himself. Many fans, rather than realizing the work was Koontz own invention, apparently believed it was a real, but rare, volume; Koontz later collected the existing verse into an actual book.
  • A poem at the beginning of J. R. R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings describes the Rings of Power, the central plot device of the novel.
  • Stephen Kings The Dark Half has epigraphs taken from the fictitious novels written by the protagonist.
  • John Greens The Fault in Our Stars has a quotation from a fictitious novel, An Imperial Affliction, which features prominently as a part of the story.