When used to ancient Greek literature, the term "epic" refers to a group of writings that can be roughly characterized as narrative poetry about the exploits of gods and heroes. This, to a significant measure, reflects Homer's authority as the most famous epic poet. Although later poets continued to add to the corpus of epic poetry, none could match the fame or influence of Homer.
In modern usage, an "epic poem" is usually taken to be a long narrative poem in verse about a single subject, such as The Iliad by Homer or Paradise Lost by John Milton. However, many other kinds of poems are called epics in some contexts: musical epics for example. In addition, there are poems written in an epic style over several books or even decades (such as Virgil's Aeneid), which do not fit the definition of epic poem found in both ancient and modern contexts.
Finally, it should be noted that the term "epic" has also been applied to non-narrative works, especially paintings or sculptures. For example, an "epic scene" is a large-scale painting that often depicts battle scenes from history or mythology.
By these various definitions, many different types of works have been called epics. It is therefore difficult to provide a concise list of criteria that all examples of epic poetry must meet.
An epic is a lengthy, narrative poem in which the principal character, generally portrayed as a hero of some kind, strives against immense odds—sometimes practically death—to reach a good objective. Homer is the author of the two Greek epics that have survived: The Iliad and The Odyssey. They are among the most important documents of ancient Western civilization.
The Iliad is the name given to the first part of what was originally a single work by the Greek poet Homer. It consists of about 24 chapters of about 200 lines each, for a total of 24,000 lines, written around 750 BC. The story takes place in Greece during the war between the Greeks and the Trojans to win Helen, wife of King Agamemnon of Greece, who had been taken away from her husband. The Iliad describes many battles between the Greeks and the Trojans with their allies. It also tells of the suffering of those involved, especially the heroes who died fighting on both sides. Finally, it reveals the fate of Helen after she became Mrs. Menelaus of Sparta; she will eventually marry him back again.
The Odyssey is the name given to the second part of what was originally a single work by the Greek poet Homer. It is composed of about twenty-two chapters of about 150 lines each, for a total of 22,050 lines, written around 450 BC. The story takes place after the Trojan War has ended.
The Homeric Epics were the most important works of literature throughout the early Greek period. These were epic poetry that recounted the heroic exploits of renowned Grecian heroes. Epic poems are extended, non-rhyming poems that explain a serious issue that is generally essential to a society. According to some scholars, these poems were originally sung at religious ceremonies dating back as early as 2300 B.C.
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey deal with events from the Trojan War to the death of Odysseus (Ulysses). Although they cover a period of about 20 years, their original form was probably much longer. The Iliad describes about 25 battles between Greeks and Trojans and ends with the death of Achilles. The Odyssey is about Ulysses' adventures after the fall of Troy and includes many elements from classical mythology including the quest for immortality through divine intervention. It concludes with the return of Ulysses to Ithaca.
Other important epics include those by Hesiod, Archilochos, Simias, and Ion. They too deal with major themes in ancient Greek culture. Hesiod wrote about 300 B.C., while Archilochos and Ion were contemporary poets who lived around 700 B.C. Simias was a poet whose work has been lost except for his name which appears in other poets' work. He lived around 500 B.C.
An epic is a long narrative poem written in an elevated form that recounts the exploits of a mythical or historical hero. The Iliad and Odyssey are both epics. A legend is a type of folklore that consists of a tale about human activities perceived or believed to have occurred in human history by both the narrator and the listeners. These tales are often based on fact but may also be complete inventions.
Epics and legends are different things though they both use mythological characters and events as their basis. An epic uses more serious language and is usually set in ancient times while a legend tends to be playful and uses simpler words because it is told by children to amuse them. For example, Thomas the Rhymer is said to have been a 13th-century Scottish poet who predicted future events including the Battle of Bannockburn which took place some years later. Although he was well known at the time, there is no evidence that he ever actually existed.
In addition to telling stories about myths and heroes, poets also like to invent new ones. This is called fiction and can also be used to tell stories about real people such as saints or politicians. Some examples of poems that are also epics or legends include Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad, and Odin's Saga.
These poems all share similar characteristics including being about my heroes who fight and win battles, travel to other lands, meet gods, etc.