Half of the extant Mahābhārata is dedicated to dharma and ethics. In the other half, the main story and the upākhyānas are present. Even if we consider the latter alone, without doubt, it qualifies for a matchless poem.
Dharma and Nīti (ethics) in the Mahābhārata
The Timeline of the Composition of Mahābhārata
Adhyāyas 62-88 – Śakuntalopākhyānam, Vaṃśanukrama, Yayātyupākhyānam (Śakuntalā’s story, details of the lineage and Yayāti’s story)
The fifty-seventh adhyāya of the Ādi-parva starts with the story of King Uparicara. Some scholars opine that this is the real beginning of the Bhārata epic because Uparicara’s daughter Matysagandhī (also called Satyvavatī, Kālī, Yojanagandhī, and Gandhavatī) is the mother of Vyāsa, who is the ancestor of both the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas. This section narrates the incidents that led to her becoming the daughter of a fisherman and the birth of Vyāsa through Parāśara; several fantastic explanations have been given to support these episodes.
Adhyāyas 54-61 : Ādivaṃśāvataraṇa -parva
Adhyāyas 4-12. Pauloma-parva
The adhyāyas from 4 to 12 form the Pauloma-parva. Just like the anukramaṇikā (prologue), this section starts with a prose passage.
रोमहर्षणपुत्र उग्रश्रवाः सूतः पौराणिको नैमिषारण्ये शौनकस्य कुलपतेर्द्वादशवार्षिके सत्रे |
(Sūta-paurāṇika Ugraśrava, the son of Romaharṣaṇa during the twelve year long satra conducted by Śaunaka in the Naimiṣāraṇya,....)
The third adhyāya of the Ādi-parva contains the ‘Pauṣya’(upa)parva. The Sūta, Ugraśrava tells the story of Uttaṅka. After completing his studies, Uttaṅka sets out to bring the earrings of King Puṣya’s consort as guru-dakṣiṇa (a token of gratitude to his guru). After acquiring them from the queen, on his way back through a forest, he is harassed by Takṣaka , the king of serpents. Enraged, Uttaṅka goes to King Janamejaya and reminds him that his father died of a snake-bite and instigates the king to perform the sarpa-yāga.