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What is an epigraph?

I'd like to know. 

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Dear George

Karina did a great job giving examples of epigraphs.  If you need a "one-liner," in simple terms, to remember for an exam, I've listed the definition I remembered from years ago:

"An epigraph is a provocative piece of prose, poetry or quotation that serves as an introduction to a literary work."

Hi George:

     An epigraph is not just a recitation of a quote from literature.  It should be quoted material which sets the theme or underlying premise of your essay or novel.  It may also cause the reader to pause and think about a particularly relevant idea which is discussed in the literature.   

Regards,  Donna Ann P.

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1 Answer

An epigraph can be either: 

  1) a quotation or an inscription on a building or statue

 - For example a plaque with the following text can be found inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty : 

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote comes from Emma Lazarus' sonnet, New Colossus

-or an epigraph can be

  2) a quotation or "motto" used at the beginning of a book or any text which usually suggest the theme of that book or text

- For example: this is the epigraph in the beginning of the Great Gatsby:

"Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; If you can bounce high, bounce for her too, Till she cry Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!" – Thomas Parke D’Invilliers

-Epigraphs give you a sampling of what is too come in the book or just give you a heads up as to what the theme may be