Can the word epitome be used in a negative context like in this statement
He is the epitome of corruption.
And should I be using the epitome instead of an epitome?
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Yes, one could say "He is the epitome of corruption".
Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
Elie Wiesel, in US News & World Report (27 October 1986)
When it is phrased 'an epitome' the noun refers to its second meaning of 'a condensed account', as in:
In the first part the greatest freedom has been used in reducing the narration into a narrow compass, so that it is by no means a translation but an epitome, in which, whether everything either useful or entertaining be comprised, the compiler is least qualified to determine.
A Voyage to Abyssinia by Father Lobo, translated by M. Le Grand
In the sense of a perfect example
It could be used for something positive or negative.
As to the definite or indefinite article, it depends on the context.....you will see the epitome more frequently in colloquial usage.