• One of the major forms of narrative literature.
• It retells, in a continuous narrative, the life
and works of a heroic or mythological person
or group of people.
• VERY LONG and best examples are
• The longest epic is the Rig – Veda, written
over 5000 years ago.
• Definition: A kind of narrative poem that
tells the story of a hero and his companions.
Epics are frequently set in a past thought to
be greater and finer than the present, and
they are usually long and of a serious nature.
2 types of Epics
• Primary or Folk Epic
• No single author (each is a product of the
• Written down after centuries of oral
transmission-- e. g., Beowulf and the Iliad
Secondary or Literary
• A single, gifted poet such as Virgil or Milton
composes a work that imitates a folk epic.
The AEneid and Paradise Lost, for
example, involved considerable research and
have the style of earlier epics (particularly in
setting, dignified speeches, and extended
• Primary epics were originally intended to be
sung or recited to music: "Sing, Muse . . . .“
• There is a “Medias Res” opening– in the
middle of things.
• The subject is often announced with an
“Invocation of a Muse”.
• Epics often have a nationalistic bias and
• There is usually a correspondingly large scale.
• Principal characters are larger-than-life demigods
(descendants of deities) or heroes of immense
stature and strength .
• Heroes represent cultural ideals like endurance and
cunning (Odysseus), all-round virtue (Achilles), fair
play and selflessness (Beowulf).
• Single combat is a common plot device .
• If the warriors are equals, such as Achilles
and Hector, they fight with sword and spear.
Lesser foes are fought with lesser weapons.
• The hero often has a special weapon or
quality (Odysseus’ disguises).
• Other stock episodes include a trip to the
• Stately pace.
• Elevated, literary language is the norm-even
servants speak in dignified verse.
• Long, formal speeches such as challenges,
inset narratives, flashbacks, and points of
debate occur within the midst of the action;
characters are commonly revealed in
• Speeches are often followed by such phrases
as "thus he spoke" to emphasize that the
words are those of a character and not of the
• The manner of address between characters is
circumlocutious and courtly.
• Circumlocutious - roundabout and
unnecessarily wordy. Epics often use
• Epic conventions include the simile, the in-
medias-res opening, the invocation, the
climactic confrontation between mighty
adversaries, and hand-to-hand combat.
• The events of the poem permeate the
national consciousness--everyone in the
audience already knows most of the details of
One More Thing
• The Epic or Homeric Simile is a protracted
comparison beginning with "like" or "as"; the
figure, loaded with description, often holds up
the action at a crucial point to produce
• “As a mountain snake, who is maddened by
the poisonous herbs he has swallowed, allows
a man to come up to the lair where he lies
coiled, and watches him with a baleful glitter
in his eye, Hector stood firm and unflinching.”
• The hero is introduced in the midst of turmoil
• The hero is not only a warrior, but a polished leader.
• Possesses heirloom weapons with distinctive power
• The hero must undertake a long, perilous journey,
often involving a descent into the Underworld, which
tests his endurance, courage, and cunning.
• He undertakes a task that no one else dare attempt.
• Whatever virtues his culture most prizes, he
possesses in abundance.
• He establishes his aristeia (nobility) through single
combat with a superior foe.
• The hero and his antagonist, meet at the climax,
which must be delayed as long as possible to sustain
• The adversary is often a "god-despiser," one
who has more respect for his own mental and
physical abilities than for the power of the
• The hero may encounter a numinous
phenomenon (a place or person having a
divine or supernatural force) and the he must
use his strength/power to overcome.
• Adapted from work by Philip V. Allingham