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Epigraph
"I am reminded of how Joe Queenan once suggested that if mediocre books were going to preface with quotes from great literature, how great literature could return the favour by prefacing themselves with quotes from Tom Clancy explaining the technical specifications of a military helicopter."

The quotation of a line, excerpt or poetry done at the beginning or (more rarely) at the ending of a work, segment or chapter. Frequent in Literature, shows up occasionally otherwise.

In Speculative Fiction, it is often used to do an Encyclopedia Exposita. Can also be used for an As the Good Book Says effect. See also Pretentious Latin Motto.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

    Comic Books 
  • The three issues of Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid had quotes from Omar Khayyam, Lou Reed, and E. E. Cummings on the back covers.
  • In the collected editions of The Sandman, each story arc is preceded with two quotes. The first one reads as something deep and profound; the second a pithy, less serious comment on the same topic — from the story itself.
  • Each chapter of Watchmen ends with one of these, which is alluded to in the title of the chapter. The final epigraph to the collected edition was chosen both as a reference to a graffito in the series, and for its being used as another epigraph (to the Tower Commission report on the Iran-Contra Scandal).
  • Issue five of The Monster of Frankenstein has a quote from Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Bad Moon Rising" in its first page, foreshadowing the werewolf business to come.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • The Hagakure is quoted throughout the gangster flick Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai starring Forrest Whitaker as a gangster hitman, using title cards.
  • Kill Bill quotes "Revenge is a dish best served cold" which is (falsely) attributed as being an old Klingon proverb.
    • Which is parodied in AMV Hell 3, which starts with "At least I have chicken"...still credited as an old Klingon proverb.
  • The ending of Tears of the Sun, a movie centering around Navy SEALs helping a group of refugees escape genocide-ridden Nigeria, has a quote attributed to (but probably not written by) Edmund Burke before the ending credits start: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
  • The beginning of Conan the Barbarian (1982) has Nietzsche's quote "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
  • To bring context to the brutality that is about to be shown, The Passion of the Christ brings us this abbreviated quote from Isaiah 53: 5 "He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds we are healed"
  • The opening credits sequence of The Breakfast Club includes a four-line quotation of the song "Changes" by David Bowie.
  • The recent film version of True Grit begins with Proverbs 28:1, "The wicked flee when none pursueth."
  • The Tree of Life opens with a quotation from the The Book of Job:"Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation ... while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
  • Three A Nightmare on Elm Street films open with a quote:
  • The House by the Cemetery ends with a quote "No one will ever know whether the children are monsters or the monsters are children", which is falsely attributed to the writer Henry James (film's director Lucio Fulci actually came up with it).
  • Do the Right Thing ends with two quotes to underline the conflict of the movie: one by Martin Luther King Jr, arguing that violence is never justified, and one by Malcolm X arguing that violence in self-defense is justified.
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1989) opens with a quote from St. Jean Vitius of Rouen about making a Deal with the Devil. The guy in question actually never existed.
  • Evil Easter 3 opens with a quote from religious historian Mattias Gardell that "national socialism could be defeated with garlic". The qoute is (on purpose) taken out on context as the text the qoute is taken from is critical to the idea of [[Ghostapo occult nazi]] conspiracies.
  • Barbie movies frequently have an inspirational quote at the end of the credits, usually credited to Barbie herself.

    Literature 
  • Clive Barker's Weaveworld (by Clive Barker) as every chapter begins with a quote.
  • Tim Powers almost always quotes a bunch of British poems at the beginning of his books and of the chapters. Often these will include quotes from "William Ashbless", a fictitious poet and shared Author Avatar-proxy of Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock; Ashbless appears in Powers' The Anubis Gates.
  • Joe Abercrombie quotes the line from which the title of each of his books is taken, in The First Law series.
  • Watership Down has one for each chapter. An interesting example in that it sometimes cites non-fiction, notably, The Private Life of the Rabbit, by Ronald Lockley.
  • The Diamond Age starts with a short excerpt from a non-fiction book about sociological change.
  • Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series has quotes from The Bible, the Apocrypha, and other early Christian and Jewish writings appear at above the start of most chapters.
    • Other real-world sources (such as the Roman playwright Terence) get quoted this way as well. The chapter in which Jehana is introduced in Deryni Rising has an epigraph adapted from William Congreve's The Mourning Bride (1697): "Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned,/ .....Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorned." The idea is far older (not to say proverbial), as seen in Euripides' play Medea (263): "In all other things a woman is full of fear, incapable of looking on battle or cold steel; but when she is injured in love, no mind is more murderous than hers."
    • A few sources are from within the Deryni universe. The first chapter of Deryni Checkmate has an epigraph from a "St. Veneric" which mentions the fickleness of Gwynedd's weather in March, and chapter fifteen of the same book has this from an unknown Deryni monk: "The humans kill what they do not understand."
  • Barbara Hambly's Bride of the Rat God quotes the I Ching.
  • The title and chapter pages of Stephen King's more epic novels quote anything and everything from T. S. Eliot and Thomas Wolfe to Blue Oyster Cult and King's own fictional characters.
  • Margaret Atwood is a big fan of epigraphs. The epigraph of The Handmaid's Tale has quotes from Jonathan Swift, the Bible and a proverb. Alias Grace has one or more before each section. Such as this, the epigraph for The Edible Woman:
    "The surface on which you work (preferably marble), the tools, the ingredients and your fingers should be chilled throughout the operation..."
    (Recipe for Puff Pastry in I.S. Rombauer and M.R. Becker, The Joy of Cooking.)
    • Consider this, one of the two epigraphs from Cat's Eye, which makes the way the story is constructed make far more sense:
    "Why do we remember the past, and not the future?" (Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time")
  • Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint - and most of her novels - has one
  • T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land has one. Somewhat notable in that it's a poem and that the epigraph is an important clue to what is going on.
    • His "The Hollow Men", a shorter poem, not only has an epigraph, but the section in his Selected Poems containing only "The Hollow Men" has one as well. If you look up "The Hollow Men" on the web you'll probably find the two given one after the other; they're both relevant to the poem's meaning.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows quotes from Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers and Penn's Fruits of Solitude. The theme of both quotes, of course, is death and its aftermath.
  • Each book of the Twilight series begins with a different quote. Twilight has the Bible, New Moon has Romeo and Juliet, and Eclipse has the Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice."
  • The chapters in Annie Dillard's The Writing Life each begin with an epigraph.
  • The chapters in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants begin with epigraphs.
  • City of Bones, the first book of Mortal Instruments, has quotes from Julius Caesar and Paradise Lost.
  • A Great And Terrible Beauty and it's sequels each begin with excerpts from poems, namely "The Lady of Shalott" in the first book, Paradise Lost and "A Dream Within a Dream" in the second and "The Rose of Battle" in the third.
  • Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal begins each segment with a related quote about God or Jesus.
  • Most chapters of American Gods start with one, often foreshadowing later events in the chapters. They range from Robert Frost to e. e. cummings, Sondheim to Tom Waits.
  • Perhaps in deference to the opening quote, Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao takes its epigraph from Fantastic Four #49, penned by Stan Lee.
  • His Dark Materials makes use of this trope in two of its installments: The Golden Compass/Northern Lights begins with a quote from Paradise Lost, and The Amber Spyglass, along with giving almost every chapter a short quote, uses Walt Whitman's America, a Prophecy and two other poems to set a very poignant mood.
  • Spring Heeled Jack starts off every chapter with quotes, including chestnuts such as "It was a dark and stormy night" and "Meanwhile, back at the ranch...."
  • The Secret Life Of Bees begins each chapter with some small, pithy note on bees and their life.
  • The Great Gatsby opens with a wonderful epigraph (which almost provided the title), by "Thomas Parke D'Invilliers" - actually a fictional character in Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise.
  • Most Dorothy L Sayers novels begin each chapter with a quotation, often from poetry.
  • Ann Radcliffe's novel The Italian quotes several works of William Shakespeare, lines from Milton's Paradise Lost and other writing from before her time.
  • Don Quixote begins with a note from the author, explaining that he despaired of finding a suitable epigraph for the book, until his friend suggested making shit up.
  • A novel called Black Horizon took its title from the epigraph, an anonymous eighteenth-century poem. In the author's book on how to write, he admitted he thought of the title first, then made up the poem.
  • Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels with Literary Allusion Titles often began with an epigraph containing the relevant portion of the poem invoked by the title.
  • Charles Babbage's autobiography, Passages From the Life of a Philosopher, begins with a quote from Don Juan: "I'm a philosopher. Confound them all — birds, beasts and men; but no, not womankind," despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the book.
  • Cornelia Funke begins each chapter of all three of her Inkheart novels with quotes from numerous other works of literature that hint at or relate to the plot of the chapter, including everything from The Princess Bride to Salman Rushdie.
  • Mary Janice Davidson opens every one of her books with three to four epigrahs. Of these, two are serious and the last one is outright silly. (In the Betsy the Vampire Queen books, the last one is usually Betsy herself.
  • Carl Sagan's novel Contact has so many quotes at the beginning of the parts and chapters that it looks like an anthology of quotations.
  • Studs Terkel's collection of interviews, Working, begins with four quotations on the subject of working, from the Bible to a Nixon speech and an ad.
  • Parodied in Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series, which includes gag quotes attributed to famous real or fictional characters. Most are invented ("In times of crisis, it is of utmost importance not to lose one's head. — M. Antoinette), but occasionally a legitimate quote is used to preface a chapter whose contents make it funny in context.
    • Russian Alternate History novel writer Vladimir Sverzhin does exactly the same thing (such as musings on running being good for your health attributed to the original Marathon Runner).
  • The Master and Margarita begins with a highly appropriate quote from Goethe's Faust:
    "I am part of that force which wills forever evil and works forever good."
  • Foucaults Pendulum features plenty of somewhat obscure and bizarre epigraphs, some of them in other languages. All or most of them still manage to be relevant, though. The majority is taken from a wide variety of occult literature, but there are also things like a musing on the physics of a hanged man.
  • All of Jasper Fforde's books (Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series) have an excerpt from a fictional article or book at the start of every chapter.
  • Fictional examples are used in The War Against the Chtorr, ranging from newspaper articles and quotes by Solomon Short (a newspaper columnist) in the first two books, limericks in the third book, and quotes from The Red Book in the fourth.
  • Each chapter of The Club Dumas begins with a different quote, several of which come from Alexandre Dumas's works. Interestingly, the well-read will see chapter five's quote and will logically come to an early conclusion about who is the Big Bad. This is a Red Herring that the supposed Big Bad will later call the reader out on.
  • Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor starts off with a Luke quote which actually turns out to be from that very book. (It got quite meta at the end.)
  • Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson begins every chapter with two quotes from "The Calendar of Pudd'nhead Wilson."
  • J. Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans
  • Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart famously takes its title from William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming;" the stanza containing the "things fall apart" line is quoted as the epigraph.
  • The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, being a historical novel about a famous Russian poet and polyglot, has short relevant lines from poems or songs in different languages at the beginning of every chapter but the last (by which point he dies).
  • Ciaphas Cain note  chapters have fictional epigraphs that are written in-universe by the author.
    • The Horus Heresy novels also make extensive use of them, using either quotes from previous 40k books or real world sources. What's interesting about the real quotes is that they're all a major case of Future Imperfect, mangling either the quote, the source's name and/or background information (getting Laozi confused with Chairman Mao; describing real life military leaders in terms of the Imperium's odd sci-fi Romanesque ranking structure; badly translated quote from The Bible described as fragments of the holy book of some long-extinct cult, etc.). This despite the fact that The Emperor (and a few other characters) has been around since the 8th century BC or longer and presumably could have corrected them if he felt like it.
  • Two of Ken Kesey's novels are prefaced with quotes that each book's title came from. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest used the children's rhyme "Wire, briar, limber-lock/Three geese in a flock/One flew east, one flew west/One flew over the cuckoo's nest"; it's also used later in one of Bromden's flashbacks. (Some scholars later speculated that the geese are supposed to represent Ratched, Mc Murphy, and Bromden.) Sometimes a Great Notion quotes the folk song "Goodnight, Irene": "Sometimes I live in the country/Sometimes I live in town/Sometimes I have a great notion/To jump in the river and drown".
  • Gerald Durrell does this at the beginning of every chapter in some of his books.
  • In the war novels by Sven Hassel, every chapter begins with a short section of prose, often unrelated to the novel but showing events in the wider war.
  • All but the first two Inspector Morse novels by Colin Dexter use epigraphs at the top of every chapter. As Dexter's chapters tend to be fairly short, that's a LOT of epigraphs. Not that the research fazed Dexter one bit - if he couldn't find a suitable quote, he simply made one up and credited a non-existent source. This happened a lot.
  • Both used and parodied in several of Steven Brust's novels, as when each chapter of Teckla is presaged by an excerpt from the protagonist's laundry list.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin is fond of this trope. Quite a few of her books have epigraphs:
    • A Wizard of Earthsea and The Other Wind both begin with in-universe epigraphs, "The Creation of Ea" and "The Song of the Woman of Kemay" respectively.
    • The Telling begins with a line from The Mahabharata.
    • The Lathe of Heaven uses epigraphs, many from Taoist thinkers, at the beginning of each chapter.
  • Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather opens with a (paraphrased) quote from Honoré de Balzac's 1835 novel Le Père Goriot: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime."note 
  • Frank Herbert's Dune books begin every single chapter with an epigraph, always from an in-universe source.
  • Brandon Sanderson likes doing this with his fantasy works - at the beginning of each chapter is a quotation form an in-universe source. In The Final Empire, the epigraphs are from the diary of Alendi, the supposed Hero of Ages, whose packman Rashek killed him and became the Lord Ruler. In The Well of Ascension, the epigraphs were written by Kwaan, the man who first announced Alendi as the Hero of Ages, and gives some hints into the prophecies behind the Hero of Ages. In the third and final book, the epigraphs are written by the Hero of Ages, Sazed, after he takes in both Ruin and Preservation and fixes the world, detailing what he did and how he did it as Harmony.
    • It gets even more complicated in The Way of Kings, the first book of The Stormlight Archive, because the epigraphs are from different sources. In Part 1, the epigraphs are cryptic quotes from people just before their death, which are being collected by Taravangian. They are supposedly the first glimpses of the world beyond, having started seven years before the story starts, roughly when Gavilar first investigated the Shattered Plains, and at least one is a quote from the Lost Herald. In Part 2, the epigraphs are from a letter, probably (but not certainly) written by Hoid and addressed to an unknown person, almost certainly a Shardbearer, in which the writer begs whoever the recipient is to end his neutrality and help him in the coming war against Odium. This letter gives hints as to the workings of the Cosmere at large, talking about the Shards on Sel (and how Odium killed them) as well as talking of Odium's ally Bavadin and a mysterious group called 'The Seventeenth Shard. The epigraphs in Part 3 are notes from Jasnah's research on the Voidbringers. Part 4 returns to the quotes from the dying, and Part 5 doesn't have any epigraphs, but considering the massive amount of reveals in those chapters, it doesn't need any.
  • Coraline begins with a paraphrase of a quote from G. K. Chesterton, "Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
  • A Darkling Plain, the last book in the Mortal Engines quartet, has the last stanza of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach as its epigraph.
  • Rudyard Kipling frequently supplemented an epigraph to both poetry and prose, up to a short poem before a novel. Some of these either add a twist or are plainly ironic when compared to the text.
  • The novelisation of the decidedly camp and blockbuster The Avengers film begins each chapter with a more-or-less 'relevant' quote from The Tempest. That particular play might have been chosen because the villain of The Avengers is a man who can control the weather.
  • Rudyard Kipling's "The Three-Decker" opens with a quote claiming the three-volume novel is extinct.
  • The early Pern books by Anne McCaffrey have snippets of Harper songs at the start of each chapter.
  • Both books of The Sundering open with a quote from Paradise Lost.
  • Grendel opens with a selection of "The Mental Traveller" by William Blake.
  • Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes begins with an Emily Dickinson quote: "Hello, I'm nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too?"
  • In testament to the author's nerdiness, the Mediochre Q Seth Series uses the Oxford English Dictionary for its epigraphs.
  • In The Disaster Artist, the two narrative threads are framed by Epigraphs from two different sources: the segments relating the history of Greg Sestero's friendship with Tommy Wiseau uses quotes from The Talented Mr Ripley and the segments relating the events during the production of The Room uses quotes from Sunset Boulevard. The final chapter, which describes the theatrical debut of The Room, uses both.
  • In Frank Zappa's autobiography "The Real Frank Zappa Book," points out that "[t]he epigraphs at the heads of chapters (publishers love those little things) were researched and inserted by Peter (Occhiogrosso, the co-author) — I mention this because I wouldn't want anybody to think I sat around reading Flaubert, Twitchell and Shakespeare all day." Zappa's reaction to an epigraph quoting Flaubert is "How 'bout that epigraph, huh? Peter, you're cracking me up already."
  • Barefoot Boy with Cheek by Max Shulman begins each chapter with a phrase that might be taught in a "Beginning French" course attributed to a famous French author.
  • The novel version of Bright Lights Big City quotes from The Sun Also Rises at the beginning.
  • Richard Condon's novels, including The Manchurian Candidate and Winter Kills, often have a quote at the beginning from The Keeners' Manual, which doesn't exist.

    Live Action TV 
  • Each Andromeda episode begins with a (fictional) quote.
  • Criminal Minds usually begins and ends with an epigraph read by whichever character the episode focuses on.
  • The first episode of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace cuts to a King Lear quote about 5 minutes in. In the middle of a scene. For no reason.
  • Iron Chef always begins with a quote from French epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
  • The Wire has an epigraph to each episode, always a quote from later in that episode, usually with an ironic subtext in hindsight.

    Manga 
  • Bleach starts each tankubon (bound volume) with a small illustration of a character and a short poem that seems to be written in the voice of that character. And Kubo Tite's poetry is surprisingly good.
  • Monster is epigraphed by a passage from Revelation which coincides with the plot.

    Music 
  • Several of Doctor Steel's songs have epigraphs, some sampled from old Public Service Announcements such as "Duck and Cover", others deliberately done as a parody of such announcements.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams's Sinfonia Antartica has quotations preceding each of its five movements. These are sometimes recited. (Which is wrong, because the composer explicitly instructed that they should be printed in the programme to be read silently by the listeners, and because recitation destroys the attacca transition into the fourth movement.)
  • Claude Debussy's suite En blanc et noir for two pianos has epigraphs for its otherwise untitled movements.
  • Most of the tracks on Sabaton's The Art of War album have relevant quotes from the book of the same name either at the start or the end of the song.

    Theatre 
  • The published script of Tony Kushner's Angels In America: Millenium Approaches begins with this one:
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
—Stanley Kunitz, "The Testing Tree"
  • And part two, Perestroika, begins with this one:
Because the soul is progressive, it never quite repeats itself, but in every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, "On Art"

    TV Tropes 

    Video Games 
  • Common in Interactive Fiction.
  • Tales of Phantasia: "If there is evil in this world, it lurks in the hearts of men."
    • Tales of Hearts opens with the in-universe "Sleeping Beauty" nursery rhyme.
  • Too Human used the Nietzsche quote "Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one" in its advertising material. Not sure if it's used in the game itself.
  • inFAMOUS has these on loading screens that come up, usually when the day changes. The themes are the destructive nature of power (as in "If you want to test a man's character, give him power.")
  • At several points in Final Fantasy XII, there will be a quote from a book written by the character Ondore, who also functions as a narrator upon the larger plot of the game. This also extends to its setting prequel, Final Fantasy Tactics, which feature quotes from a Saint Ajora Glabados, the inspiration for the game's Corrupt Church.
  • A variation of sorts exists in some Call of Duty games: upon most player deaths, the game usually displays a quote about warfare.
  • Deus Ex has one for each ending. For example becoming a Deus Est Machina results in the Voltaire quote "If There Were No God, It Would Be Necessary To Invent Him.".
  • Occurs several times in The Elder Scrolls": The first (The best techniques are passed on by the survivors) and the third (Each event is preceded by prophesy; but without the Hero there is no event).
  • ''Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri" uses Genesis 3:24 over the opening movie to great effect
    Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden. He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
    —Conclave Bible, Datalinks
    • There's a video here.
      • Then there is Civilization IV in which every technology has a quote with it from The Bible to Oscar Wilde to Sputnik. Narrated (mostly) by the man.
      • Alpha Centauri also has quotes for each tech and facility. Most of them are fictional quotes from the faction leaders, while there are literary or other references sprinkled in.
  • Before the title screen, Eternal Darkness has the first stanza from "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Eversion begins with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft referring to the character's eponymous power.
  • Uncharted opens with a quote from Sir Francis Drake, and the second game continues the tradition with a quote from Marco Polo.
    • The tradition continues with 3 with a quote attributed to T.E. Lawrence's portrayal in Lawrence of Arabia and in Golden Abyss with a line from a letter by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado about Marcos de Niza.
  • The Total War series tends to feature epigraphs in its loading screens.
  • Every time you boot up an X-Universe game, you're treated to a quote from somebody like Arthur C. Clarke or Albert Einstein.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni contains one or several poems signed Frederica Bernkastel in the beginning, the middle or the end of the arc. They are cryptic but often contains clues or show the emotions that Rika, the true protagonist goes through. Sadly they were not present in the anime version but the ones found in the novels and the manga can be found here.
  • The Ancient Art Of War opens each match with a quote from Sun Tzu.

     Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in Adventure Time, where the episode "Ocean of Fear" Book Ends with omninous epigraph-style quotes about fear from Pat McHale... one of the show's staff members, effectively giving the show an epigraph from itself.


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