What is an Epigraph? Definition, Types & Examples


Are you wondering what epigraphs are, their examples, and how they can help you add layers of texture to your writing? Or maybe you just want to make your writing more intriguing? 

Epigraphs may seem confusing at first, but they’re actually common, and you can find them in many books, stories, and poems. 

They’re more like a little writing trick that guides readers and helps them understand what a story ia bout. When used correctly/skillfully, epigraphs could be a writers best friend. 

You see, epigraphs are meant to give readers some sort of idea about themes and subjects that will appear later in your work, while also establishing context for your story. To better understand Ephigraphs, lets dig deeper into what they are, and their purposes, shall we? 

What is an Epigraph?

Have you noticed a short quote at the beginning of an essay, or book chapter? Well, thats an epigraph, and dont confuse it with (“epigrams” which are witty sayings, or “epitaphs” commonly found of tombstones).

In other words, epigraphs are like hints about a story. It could be a quote from a poem, a song, or another book. There arent strict rules on how they must look like, but theyre usually in quotation marks, and are set apart from the main text. 

What Is the Purpose of an Epigraph?

Epigraphs serve several purposes – and for different reasons. Whether its fact or fiction, they help give readers a clue about what to expect ahead. Furthermore, authors sometimes use epigraphic quotes to set up a larger theme they plan to explore in their books. Additionally, other epigraphs set up expositiory information tha helps the reader understand the work. 

Types of Epigraphs

Now that you haev an understanding of what epigraphs are, lets take a look at their different types. Some notable examples include:

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mound me Man, did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?” —Paradise Lost
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo: “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.” —Balzac
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: “You are all a lost generation.” —Gertrude Stein
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” —Charles Lamb

3 Purposes of an Epigraph

See those short quotes placed at the beginning of a literary work? Those are epigraphs and they serve more than just decoration. Here are five ways authors strategically use them:

  • To Introducing Themes

An epigraph foreshadows the main ideas an author explores throughout the story. They also serve as tribute from one writer to the other, as some sort of acknowledgement or inspiration. Its like a secret coded message. 

If properly placed, an epigraph instantly signals a thematic current of books and shared a glimpse into future events. By referencing another work, an author can subtly connect their story to a broader literary tradition.

  • Setting the Tone

Your chosen quote plays a huge role into how your work reflects on your audience. It basically establishes the overall mood and atmosphere for your readers, which also means it will either keep the readers around or not. 

A thought-provoking quote can spark a reader’s curiosity and encourage deeper reflection on your upcoming narrative. Epigraphs hold the keys to set the tone in your writing, provide context to you rreaders and offer insights into the authors intentions. Furthermore, they even offer historical background or relevant information for a better understanding of your work.

  • Aesthetic Value

Epigraphs contribute to your work’s aesthetic value in multiple ways. First, their placement, which is often right-aligned and italicized helps set them visually apart and that create a distinct introduction to your narrative. 

Epigraphs, which often includes an idiom or a quote, enhance the overall aesthetic allure of a literary piece. That ensures an intellectually stimulating introduction that serves as a hook, which captivates the reader’s attention.

A well-chosen quote doesnt just pique a  reader’s curiosity, it also hints at the themes or mood to be explored. Additionally, an epigraph introduces a more formal or poetic language, which adds a layer of sophistication. 

As an author, referencing others work or historical event subtly connects your story to a broader context, enriching reading experience. An introductory quote acts like an elegantly crafted doorway, inviting the reader into your story and it also offers a sense of intrigue and depth.

What is the Difference Between Epigraphs and Epigrams?

Epigrams and epigraphs sound similar, but they’re very different! Yes, both are short and catchy, but they have different purposes all together.

An Epigraph: Is a short quote at the beginning of a chapter,  book, or essay. It basically gives a hint about what’s to come or think of it as setting the tone.

Example: F. Scott Fitzgerald began his novel The Great Gatsby with an epigraph from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” This quote hints at the characters’ struggle against the past and a feeling of being stuck.

How to Write an Epigraph

Usually, epigraphs are attributed to another source , and they serve as a way to enhance the readers understanding, and engagementn of the text. Now, if you dont understand any of the above, or need academic assistance writing the best essays, our services will help you with your papers. 

Epigram: Is a wise saying or short poem that hits a punch, so to speak. It’s like a wise saying, or mini-joke thats meant to be remembered.

Example 1: “All generalizations are false, including this one.” (By Alexander Pope)

Example 2: “War is sweet to those who have never experienced it.” (Desiderius Erasmus)

How to Write an Epigram

Typically, epigrams are found at the beginning of any form of work, and they can stand alone as a complete piece of writing, unlike an epigraph which is the exact opposite. The main characteristic of epigrams is their sharpness, or concision, and that often times contains a surprise or twist in their expression. When used in longer works, epigraphs enhance text, while epigrams are standalone pieces that provoke amusement or thought.

How to Incorporate an Epigraph in Academic Writing

Below, we share some possible ways on how you can include epigraphs into your essays, or writing. 

  • Relevance: when you choose a quotation that aligns with your work’s themes, subject matter, or tone, epographs set the stage for your work. For instance, if it is a mystery novel set in Victorian England, use a quote from a classic detective novel. See, thats equals to relevant.
  • Source reliability: This ensures your source is well-known and credible, and it also adds weight to your work. For example, use a quote from a popular motivational speaker if youre writing a personal development book.
  • Contextual positioning: Here you must  decide and define the best location for your quotation within your work so you can maximize its impact. Consider placing epigraphs before an essential paragraph incase its a historical novel.
  • Expressive language: You should always select epigraph examples with memorable verses/words that capture your  work essence. For instance, a quote from Shakespeare is the perfect fit for a book on the sense of life.
  • Interpretive flexibility: You must recognize that readers can, and will interpret quotes differently, which then invites engagement with your text on various levels. Always allow for multiple interpretations, which help spark curiosity and exploration.

How to Format Epigraphs: Tips & Tricks

How you structure your work is basically an artistic decision that will impact greatly on your work, and its overall design. Below, we have compliled a list of some guidelines to help with formatting your epigraph:

  • Placement: Place your epigraph before the main text, flush right on the margin. You must also mention the source right below or include it in the same line after your quote.
  • Formatting: Its advisable to use italics to set your text apart, or quotation marks if your text is already italicized.
  • Spacing: You must separate an epigraph from the main text with a clear indent. This can be either as a whole block or just the first line.
  • Consistency: Keep your font size, style, and type the same. This applies for both your quote and source for a consistent look.
  • Conciseness and Accuracy: Choose shorter quotes for better impact. Also maintain the original punctuation unless it clashes with your sentence structure.

Bottom Line

Epigraphs play an important part in literacy tools by enriching the readers experience from scratch. Those brief quotes skillfully ste your naratives tone, while also offering a glimpse into the authors vision. Now, if you have any questions about how to write an epigraph or maybe you require assistance in mastering thedos and dont of epigraphs in your writing endeavors, consider seeking support from our expert writers at Peachy Essay.