Epic poetry is one of the main forms of poetry, with lyrics and drama. Epic poetry tells a dramatic story. There are characters in the story. It is usually long, and takes place in different settings.
Beowulf is a typical example, written in Old English. Gawain and the Green Knight was written later in a dialect of Middle English. Well-known people who wrote epics were Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Dante, Edmund Spenser and Milton. William Wordsworth's Prelude plays with epic ideas though the poem is autobiography.
Characteristics[change | change source]
Epics have seven main characteristics:
- The hero is outstanding. They might be important, and historically or legendarily significant.
- The setting is large. It covers many nations, or the known world.
- The action is made of deeds of great valour or requiring superhuman courage.
- Supernatural forces—gods, angels, demons—insert themselves in the action.
- It is written in a very special style (verse as opposed to prose).
- The poet tries to remain objective.
- Epic poems are believed to be supernatural and real by the hero and the villain
Conventions of epics:
- It starts with the theme or subject of the story.
- Writer invokes a Muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus. The poet prays to the Muses to provide him with divine inspiration to tell the story of a great hero. (This convention is restricted to cultures which were influenced by Classical culture: the Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, or the Bhagavata Purana would obviously not contain this element).
- Narrative opens in medias res, or in the middle of things, usually with the hero at his lowest point. Usually flashbacks show earlier portions of the story.
- Catalogues and genealogies are given. These long lists of objects, places, and people place the finite action of the epic within a broader, universal context. Often, the poet is also paying homage to the ancestors of audience members.
- Main characters give extended formal speeches.
- Use of the epic simile.
- Heavy use of repetition or stock phrases.
- It presents the heroic ideals such as courage, honour, sacrifice, patriotism and kindness.
- An epic gives a clear picture of the social and cultural patterns of the contemporary life. Beowulf thus shows the love of wine, wild celebration, war, adventure and sea-voyages.
Examples[change | change source]
Ancient[change | change source]
- 20th to 10th century BC:
- 8th century BC to 3rd century AD:
- 8th to 6th century BC:
- 1st century BC:
Medieval[change | change source]
- 8th to 10th century AD
- ? 10th to 12th century AD
- 14th century AD