7 junio, 2024

Epic: what it is, origin, characteristics, structure, examples

We explain what the epic is, its historical origin, characteristics and structure or parts. Finally, we give examples of famous epics.

What is an epic?

The epic It is a broad narrative about a hero and his adventures, events that are of great importance to a population. Generally, it is written in long verse (hexameter) or in prose. It tells a story of great relevance and that causes interest in the vast majority due to the greatness of the events narrated, full of heroism.

The epic is a literary subgenre considered one of the oldest among epic tales. It is distinguished by its nationalist concept and normally emphasizes the monarchy, showing it with honor and importance within society.

In these stories, great events full of adventures are emphasized, where a hero or a fantastic event for a particular town is highlighted. The pride they generate when being heard makes them counted from generation to generation. Therefore, it is easy for them to be maintained over time.

Historical origin of the epic

Mesopotamia and Gilgamesh

The epic had its origins in the ancient Mesopotamian civilization and is considered one of the first literary expositions in the history of humanity. In its beginnings it was carried out orally, they were carried out through stories of exploits of great heroes who were the pride of the population.

The first written epic of which we have knowledge dates back to the second millennium BC. C. It is the famous Epic of Gilgamesh Developed in Mesopotamia. It is also known as the oldest narrative, and this one was written on tablets made of clay.

Greece and the Iliad

Famous epics were also created in Ancient Greece. These are full of mythological tales, tales of great gods and fantastic journeys. The greatest exponent of the Greek epic was Homer. He is considered so for his works The Iliad and the Odyssey.

The Middle Ages and the epic songs

The golden age of the epic was in the Middle Ages, due to all the changes that occurred in the world during that time. In this period there were many wars and there was an evolution in the way in which the ancient myths were told. This is how the epic narratives known as the «cantares de gesta» arose.

In that period it was the minstrels who were in charge of transmitting these epic stories through their songs. Since the length of the epics has always been long, those who narrated the stories orally used sentence formulas that helped them to remember the whole story and to maintain the meter in the structure of the epic.

These stories were later transcribed, allowing the epics to be passed down from generation to generation.

stand out Beowulf, he Song of Hildebrand, he Song of the Nibelungs, he Song of Roldán or the Sing of my Cid.

The disuse of the epic

At present, these narrative forms are no longer used, but have been replaced by realistic novels or common heroes. In them, politics and the upper social classes are the common themes. It is important to note that in these new formats honor is not treated with the same value.

Characteristics of the epic

The epic has a number of features that differentiate it from other literary genres:

It can be written in verse or prose

The structure of the epics is usually prose or hexameter verses, which consist of six feet (a unit of Greek verse that contains between two and four long and short syllables).

great expanse

The epics are long. The reason for this wide length is that the narrative is quite detailed.

Emphasis is placed on describing in detail the characteristics of the characters, the settings, the exploits and all the situations faced by the protagonists of the epic.

Narration in media res

This means that the story begins in the middle of the story. While the plot develops, the other events are coupled.

It can be based on fact or fiction

The stories told in the epics may have been taken from reality, or may have been created by the writer.

However, in either case, the narration of the facts is characterized by being exaggerated. That is, facts are always exalted, whether real or imaginary.

Narrates the exploits of a hero

The characteristic plots of the epics revolve around a character, who must go through a series of circumstances and obstacles to achieve a goal.

The values ​​of this main character are exalted and, in his hero work, he tries to highlight the virtues and principles that are of great relevance to a specific society. The hero of the story always overcomes all obstacles and comes out on top.

It is usually surrounded by supernatural elements

Since the plot of the epic is usually exaggerated and idealized, the hero’s actions usually take place in a supernatural context. In epics it is common for the hero to interact with gods and other mythological characters.

These supernatural actors actively intervene in the story, hinder the hero’s action or help him fulfill his mission.

Omniscient narrator

The one who tells the story in the epic is an omniscient narrator; that is, he narrates the events in the third person.

The narrator does not participate in the adventures in the present tense, but tells the story as a chronicle: the structure is conceived so that the narrator implies that the story he shares with the reader corresponds to something that he himself lived through.

The language used suggests that the narrator is sharing his experience as an observer.

many scenarios

There are no limits when telling a story. Many provinces and countries can be present in it. In fact, they can develop worldwide and even throughout the universe. The imagination is the limit.

exaltation of values

In the epics they always try to highlight the good values ​​that the society of the time possessed. These stories have high degrees of morality and principles of the characters, especially those of the protagonist.

The hero usually highlights his great traits of generosity, honesty, love and perseverance, to name a few. These qualities give the storytelling a value beyond entertainment.


In this type of stories, a high degree of culture and customs of the region in question is also handled. Traditions and religious beliefs typical of the time where the plot is taking place are exalted.

epic function

The function of the epic, beyond its recreational nature, is profoundly didactic. This literary subgenre is intended to illustrate important actions for a group of people, and to ensure that this information survives over time and is available to future generations.

Within the plot of an epic there may be philosophical propositions that have probably laid the moral foundations of a generation. Through the epics, it is possible to teach these values.

The values ​​that are given more emphasis in the epics are fidelity, honor, honesty, strength, love, intelligence and perseverance, among other virtues.

And, in addition to the values, the epics were a way of publicizing the manifestations associated with a society. Through these literary constructions, it was possible to spread their cultural expressions from one generation to the next.

Structure of the epic

The structure of the epic is usually divided into different parts:

Introduction or exposition of the topic

It outlines the main content that will be presented in the epic and that will develop as it progresses. In general, the literary device is used in media res (the narration begins halfway through the story).

invocation of the gods

It is common for there to be an invocation of deities or demigods. The characters do it in order to request protection in the difficulties they will face during the plot. With this, they manage to win the battles and successfully complete the trips that take place.


It is the most important part in the epic and, of course, the longest. It is there where the characters are shown, the context where the facts will be presented. In this space, the spaces, environments and the plot of the story are described in detail.


Here the plot about the battles or journeys that were raised previously in the story is resolved. It can be a victorious ending for the main character or a tragic denouement where misfortune wins.


It is the culmination of the epic. Here the events that occurred after the outcome are described.

Examples of famous epics

Gilgamesh poem (2500 – 1400 BC)
The odyssey (8th century BC)
The Iliad (8th century BC)
The Mahabharata (3rd century BC)
the aeneid (1st century BC)
Beowulf (8th-12th century AD)
He Sing of my Cid (12th-13th century AD)
The Divine Comedy (14th century AD)
The Lusiads (18th century AD)
orlando furious (18th century AD)


Epic: What it is, characteristics and examples. (S.f.). (N/A): Dream Books. Recovered from: librosdeensueno.com.
The epic; structure and characteristics. How to read epics? (A/N): I’m a writer. Recovered from: soyliterauta.com.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *