Epic Poetry

Epic poem is the oldest form of poetry known. Can you think of an example of epic poetry?

by Chinyere Nwosu

September 12, 2021

What is an Epic Poem?

The word “epic” comes from the Greek term “epos,” which means “story, word, poem.” (Collins, B, 2021). An epic poem, therefore, is a long narrative poem. It is usually about a character and chronicles the character’s heroic acts, adventures, and events significant in the poet’s culture.

People used epic poems to tell tales of warriors, intense escapades, and different acts of heroism. Epic poetry was common in ancient times as it provided an ideal way of telling oral stories. Epic has been used throughout the ages and is still in use. It serves to transmit traditions from one generation to another. Epic has also been used to describe some prose in recent times.

Origin of Epic Poems

Epic poetry is the oldest form of literary work. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest surviving example of literature. It tells the story of the ancient king Gilgamesh (ruled between 2700 BC & 2500Bc), considered a descendant of the gods, and his journey to discover immortality. The Epic of Gilgamesh originated from ancient Mesopotamia in the Babylonian kingdom. It was written in the year approximately 2100 BC.

Read Also:

Summary of the Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka

The Clod and the Pebble – William Blake

Characteristics of Epic Poems

  • Epic poetry covers subject like history, legends, myths, religious tales, animal stories, moral and philosophical theories.
  • Common themes include heroism, flood, an arrogant, inexperienced king transformed into a great and wise ruler.
  • Epic poetry serves to transmit a people’s tradition from one generation to another.
  • Epic poetry is composed in meters, and the meter nature varies depending on cultural customs.
  • Latin epic – dactylic hexameter.
  • Old Germanic epic – non- rhyming alternative verse.
  • English language epic – Spenserian stanzas and blank verse.

Examples of Epic Poems

  • Homer’s Iliad
  • Homer’s Odyssey
  • Aeneid – by Virgil
  • Pharsalia – by Lucan (written in Latin)
  • Chanson de Roland in Medieval French
  • Gerusalemme liberate – by Torquato Tasso (written in Italian)
  • Paradise Lost – by John Milton
  • Epic of Gilgamesh


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