World Epics


This collaborative website is devoted to epics from across the globe, including epic narratives in theatrical dramatizations, puppetry arts, music, visual art, and film. It aims likewise to showcase websites and teaching resources developed by colleagues featuring both oral and literary epics, from the ancient world to today.


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Featured Events

World Epics in Puppet Theater

India, Iran, Japan, Italy

This project is part of the Columbia University Humanities War & Peace Initiative, which “fosters the study of war and peace from the perspective of scholars in the Humanities, in conversation with colleagues from around Columbia and the world […] with an ultimate goal of perpetuating a more peaceful world.”


mini-symposium dedicated to World Epics in Puppet Theater: India, Iran, Japan, Italy was held online through the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette “Antonio Pasqualino” (Palermo) on Friday, November 12, 2021. The theme of this mini-symposium was exile. Click here for a program with descriptions of the five presentations, a  video recording of the event, and brief biographies of the speakers.

Edited Volume

The volume World Epics and Puppet Theater (AOQU 4.2 [2023]) extends beyond the four original countries comprising the project to explore epic narratives in oral traditions, primarily puppet theater, in several different regions across Europe, Africa, and Asia. The online version is open access. The printed version will be published by Edizioni Pasqualino (Museo internazionale delle Marionette ‘Antonio Pasqualino’) in 2024.


Live and streamed performance


A performance of Rinaldo imperatore di Trebisonda by the Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli of Catania was hosted by the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette “Antonio Pasqualino” in Palermo, Italy, on November 12, 2021. The performance was staged following the World Epics in Puppet Theater mini-symposium on the theme of exile in which Alessandro Napoli gave a presentation on the “Rinaldo, Emperor of Trebizond” episode in literary and puppet theater traditions (both the presentation and the performance are available online).


Online Screening and Q&A


Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic. A cinematic shadow play that features the white-haired Zal from his birth to his love story with Rudabeh, based on the Persian epic Shahnameh (‘The Book of Kings’). Created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian with graphics derived from the visual tradition of the region, rendered as puppets, costumes, masks, scenography, and digital animation.  Online screening followed by a Q&A with Hamid Rahmanian, in conversation with Olga M. Davidson (Boston University) and John Bell (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, University of Connecticut), May 11, 2022.


Online Screening and Q&A


Moritoshi’s Report / Atsumori’s Departure and Atsumori’s Death: a sequence of two cart puppet plays derived from the Japanese epic Tales of the HeikePerformed by the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo The Koryu Nishikawa Troupe (cart puppetry company) of Japan. Online screening followed by a Q&A with Koryu Nishikawa V, in conversation with Claudia Orenstein (Hunter College), Elizabeth Oyler (University of Pittsburgh), and John Bell (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, University of Connecticut), May 18, 2022.


Online Screening and Q&A


About Ram. An experimental theatrical piece and collaborative performance, using excerpts from the Bhavbhuti Ramayana and told through animation, projected images, dance, masks, and puppets. Directed by Anurupa Roy. Animation by Vishal Dhar. Performed by the Katkatha Puppet Theatre Group. Online screening followed by a Q&A with Anurupa Roy, in conversation with Paula Richman (Oberlin College) and John Bell (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, University of Connecticut), May 25, 2022.


Featured Resources

National Epics

The website National Epics is being developed in parallel with an in-progress collaborative project of over 80 chapters edited by David Wallace and to be published by Oxford University Press.

African Epics
The website “African Poems” has a section featuring several epic poems, with introductions, written excerpts, and oral performances.

Charlemagne: A European Icon

This project examines the ways in which the different linguistic cultures of medieval Europe appropriated Charlemagne material from chronicle and epic. There will be seven volumes, along with additional features on the website.

The site’s main focus is on theatrical, musical, and artistic representations based on Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and other Italian Renaissance romance epics.

Keep Informed

Adaptations, News & Events, Publications

Bringing the Shahnameh into the 21st Century

Bringing the Shahnameh into the 21st Century

by ROBERT WEINBERG September 11, 2023 Excerpt: But there are always more stories to tell from Shahnameh and more ways to tell them. The initial challenge made by Melissa has now reached hundreds of thousands of appreciative people through other media and platforms....

Song of the North (shadow puppetry based on the Shahnameh)

Song of the North (shadow puppetry based on the Shahnameh)

US Premiere March 5-12, 2022 Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music From the Song of the North website: Created, Designed and Directed by Hamid Rahmanian Producer: Melissa Hibbard Script written by Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard Original Score written...

World Epics and Puppet Theater (AOQU 4.2)

World Epics and Puppet Theater (AOQU 4.2)

This issue of the journal AOQU stems from the project entitled World Epics in Puppet Theater: India, Iran, Japan, Italy, co-sponsored by the Humanities War and Peace Initiative, through the Division of Humanities in the Arts & Sciences, Columbia University,...

Teaching World Epics

Teaching World Epics

Teaching World Epics offers strategies for teaching epic works from Africa, Europe, Mesoamerica, and East, Central, and South Asia that are available in English translation, including Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, Beowulf, Giulia Bigolina's Urania, The Book of...