A work is described as an epitome, which is itself an extract of a larger, more extensive work. The epitome is therefore an excerpt which exemplifies an important aspect of the main work and illustrates this, whereby the essentials are brought to the point. The epitomies can also appear as a brief textbook that summarizes a certain area of knowledge (see Compendium). In addition, the term for historical breaks (short presentation of a thing) as well as for the contents or even summaries of literary works are used (eg epitomics of the Alexanderroman).
The term is derived from the Greek noun epitomé (ἐπιτομή), which can be translated with excerpt, excerpt or demolition. As a result, the translation of the word already refers to the fundamental point: namely, a section or a collection of excerpts from an extensive work [an example of the work being illustrated].
Especially in antiquity such epitaphs were popular, with the emphasis on the exemplary selection of excerpts of historical works and is to be found mainly in the late Roman and Hellenistic literature. The comprehension and clarification by means of texts is, however, quite often found in humanist literature (see Renaissance).
Example: Epitome de Caesaribus
The Epitoms de Caesaribus (Latin: Epitoms over the Emperors) are a very concise portrayal of the Roman emperor’s history. The author, who composed the portrayal between 395 and 408 and presented 48 biographies, is not known (cf. Adespota), which was only created afterwards and the original title of the work is not handed down.
The Epitome de Caesaribus is most probably due to the annals of Nicomachus Flavianus, who lived in the fourth century and whose work is considered lost. In part, however, the work is also based on the Roman emperor’s portrait of the Roman historian, Aurelius Victor. The Breviarium of the Eutropius and the Enmannian Emperor’s History are other important sources.
The Epitome de Caesaribus embraces the emperor’s history between Augustus, Until 14 AD, and Theodosius I, who was emperor in the east of the Roman Empire from 379 to 394. The work provides an overview of the history of the emperor by means of 48 chronological biographies, although it is linguistically quite unpretentious, but serves as an important source of the history of science. It is therefore a summary of the above-mentioned and, above all, more extensive works.
Example: Alexanderroman epitopes
Another example is the epitome of Alexanderroman. The Alexanderroman means a Romanesque portrayal of the medieval and ancient biographies of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), in the Middle Ages quite different versions of the work were in circulation. Some of the variants were written in prose, others showed the life of the protagonist in lyrical works, with the most extensive being almost 16,000 twelve-billets (see Alexandrian).
Julius Valerius Polemius, an ancient writer who lived in the late third century, translated the Greek Alexanderroman of Pseudo-Kallisthenes into Latin (pseudo, because the work was incorrectly attributed to Kallisthenes, court historian of Alexander). Polemius broadened the text base tremendously, ignoring numerous details that presented Alexander in a bad light, and hardly differed between facts and legends, translating very freely.
What is decisive, however, is that his work, which was published under the title Res gestae Alexandri Macedoni (“The deeds of Alexander the Macedonian”), was hardly read and was not widely used. Nowadays, only three copies of the work are handed over, which, compared to other works, points to a low reception. It is important, however, that on the basis of his work in the Middle Ages, epitomies emerged, the essential passages were taken and much attention was paid. As a result, the epitomies of Res gestae Alexandri Macedonis contributed enormously to the actual dissemination of the Alexander legends (cf. Literaturepochen).