In medias res

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In medias res, also medias in res (Latin for "into the midst of affairs (lit. into mid-affairs)"), refers to a literary and artistic technique where the narrative starts in the middle of the story instead of from its beginning (ab ovo or ab initio). The characters, setting, and conflict are often introduced through a series of flashbacks or through characters relating past events to each other. Probably originating from an oral tradition, the technique is a convention of epic poetry, one of the earliest and most prominent examples in Western literature being Homer's Odyssey and Iliad.[1] Other epics beginning in medias res include the Indian Mahābhārata, the Portuguese The Lusiads, the Spanish Cantar de Mio Cid, Germany's Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs), and the Finnish Kalevala. Several Arabian Nights tales such as "Sinbad the Sailor" and "The Three Apples" also employ this technique.[2] Virgil's Aeneid began the tradition in literature of imitating Homer,[1] continued in Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, John Milton's Paradise Lost and Inferno from Dante's Divine Comedy.[3]


[edit] Etymology

The terms in medias res and ab ovo (literally "from the egg") both come from the Roman poet Horace's Ars Poetica ("Art of Poetry", or "The Poetic Arts"), lines 147–148, where he describes his ideal for an epic poet[4]:

Nor does he begin the Trojan War from the double egg,

but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener into the middle of things …

The "double egg" is a reference to the origin of the Trojan War with the mythical birth of Helen and Clytemnestra from an egg laid by their mother, Leda, after she was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan.

[edit] Popular use

This narrative method has proven very popular throughout the ages, including frequent use in Modernist literature, e.g. Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, and many novels by William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. The technique can also be seen in cinema, including The Battle of Algiers, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Miami Vice, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the 1962 version of Lolita, Stand By Me, Daredevil, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Mission: Impossible III and the Korean film Oldboy.

The Pink Floyd movie The Wall, based on the album of the same name, also uses the technique.

In television, the TV show Lost starts in medias res explicitly in that the show starts with several characters crash-landing on an island. Over the course of several seasons of the show, we learn about the characters through both flashbacks and flashforwards. A sitcom which uses the device is How I Met Your Mother on CBS. The spy series Alias used the device in many of its episodes.

"Singularity", and "Twilight", episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, use in medias res, as the former opens near the climax of the story, and spends most of the episode recapping how it unfolded prior to that point, and the latter open twelve years after the events of the primary story, and similarly recaps the causal history between the two.

The video games Final Fantasy X, Max Payne 2, Monkey Island 2, Guardian Heroes and System Shock 2 all use this technique of storytelling.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Murray, Christopher John (2004). Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850. Taylor & Francis. p. 319. ISBN 1579584225
  2. ^ Pinault, David (1992), Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights, Brill Publishers, pp. 86–94, ISBN 9004095306 
  3. ^ Forman, Carol (1984). Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy: The Inferno. Barron's Educational Series. p. 24. ISBN 0764191071
  4. ^ Horace (in Latin). Ars Poetica. "nec gemino bellum Troianum orditur ab ouo; semper ad euentum festinat et in medias res" 
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