Epic Poetry

Epic Poetry:

It is poetry that has a broad theme, substantial length, a broad setting, and several other characteristics that make it seem “larger than life” while compared to other literary works.

Traditionally specking, an epic poem is a long, poetic narrative, serious about a significant event, frequently featuring a hero. Before the development of writing, epic poems were memorized and played vital part in maintaining a record of the great performance and history of a culture. Later on, they were written down and the tradition for this type of poem continued. Epics frequently feature the following: a hero who embodies the values of a culture or ethnic group; something vital that based on the success of the hero's actions; a broad setting, sometimes encompassing the whole world; intervention through supernatural beings. Examples of epics include the Odyssey, Gilgamesh, and Beowulf.

The first epics are related strongly along with oral poetic traditions and preliterate societies. In these traditions, poetry is transmitted to the audience and from performer to performer through purely oral means. World folk epics are those epics which are not only literary masterpieces however also an integral part of the world view of a people. Originally they were oral literatures, which were later on written down by either single author or numerous writers.

Epic poetry started along with The Epic of Gilgamesh. It is unlikely that any or Renaissance or Medieval European writer had read Gilgamesh.

The European epic tradition starts with Homer in Greece around 800 BC. It is necessary that students of English literature read The Iliad and The Odyssey. The outline of the epic poem, its typical characters, its tropes, its plot, and so forth are all set out in Homer. All of the epic poets of note read him. Other epic poets include Apollonius, Hesiod, Lucan, Ovid, and Statius.

In dactylic hexameter the epic was written in a dignified and elevated style. Typically it starts with an invocation to amuse and contains elaborate descriptions, speeches and similes. It tells of main events of historical importance (the fall of Troy, the fall of man, the foundation of Rome etc.). Its characters are noble.

Characteristics of Epic Poetry:

1.) The hero is a figure of great national or even cosmic significance, and represents a culture’s heroic ideal.
2.) The setting of the poem is ample in scale, and can be worldwide, or even larger.
3.) The action involves superhuman deeds in battle.
4.) In these great actions, the gods & other supernatural beings take an interest or an active part.
5.) An epic poem is a ceremonial performance and is narrated in a ceremonial style which is distanced deliberately from ordinary speech and proportioned to the grandeur and formality of the heroic subject matter and the epic architecture.

Elements of Epic Poetry:

Beginning of Poem and Story:

Epic poems start with the narrator's statement of the poem's subject and his invocation to, or calling upon, a muse or other divine entity to support him in taking on the task of telling his story. All epic poems have an "in medias res," meaning "in the midst of things," opening. i.e., the poem opens in the middle of the story's action, not the starting.


Usually Epic poems are set in the total known world of a specific culture or the entire universe, by including the underworld and the heavens. Actions, events and journeys that should take years frequently take place in just days or as little as hours.

Main Character:

An epic poem's main character is a heroic figure that represents a specific culture's idea of what strengths & virtues make someone a hero. However, the epic hero's failings and weaknesses are as evident as his virtues and strengths. The epic hero is frequently a warrior, part human, leader, and part god, and his actions can occur whereas on a journey or whereas pursuing a conquest. Whether an epic poem is structured around a journey or war, the hero's quest involve hazardous obstacles that test his strength, courage, endurance and craftiness. Though, the hero does not confront and battle his primary opponent till the climax of the story.

Gods, Other Deities and Divine Places:

Gods and other deities frequently play a role in the outcome of events, whether for evil or good, as they assist the hero or become difficulty in his quest. Whether an epic poem is structured around a war or a journey, the hero also frequently descends into the underworld, where his strengths and other abilities are tested.

Epic Simile:

Epic poems frequently contain epic similes, which are long, highly expressive similes that clarify the subject. As a regular simile, the epic simile makes a comparison beginning with "like" or "as." However, the epic simile is a style device utilized in epic poetry to prolong action at a critical point for suspense.

Epithets and Patronymics:

Epithets, characterizing words or phrases applied to a thing or person and sometimes utilized in place of their actual name or title, are common in epic poetry. Patronymics, calling a son by his father's name, are also used often as a form of address among characters. For instance, Achilles in "The Iliad" is frequently addressed as "Son of Peleus."

Long Speeches, Histories and Descriptions:

The hero and other significant characters frequently make long, formal speeches, such as challenges or points of debate, in the middle of action. These speeches finish with "thus he spoke" or similar phrases to illuminate that the character was speaking, not the narrator. Epic poems also contain lengthy histories and descriptions of significant items, such like a sword, used by the hero or other significant characters.

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