Epic poetry tells a dramatic story in a poem. There are characters in the story. It is usually long, and takes place in different settings. Epic poems started in prehistoric times as part of oral tradition.
Beowulf is a typical example, written in Old 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.
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.
- In epics inspired from Western civilization the writer invokes a Muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus. The poet prays to the Muses to provide divine inspiration to tell the great story.
- 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.
- 20th to 10th century BC:
- 8th century BC to 3rd century AD:
- 8th to 6th century BC:
- 1st century BC:
- Lyric poetry - contrary notion