What is Epic?
The word “epic” comes from the Ancient Greek adjective epikos, which means “a poetic storey.” The English term “epic” is derived from the Latin word “epicus,” which is taken from the Greek adjective “eipikos.”
Literary, an Epic is a long narrative poem on a serious subject written in a grand style. The subject of the Epic is a great hero or a nation or a tribe or a community of uncommon fortitude and exceptional bravery.
An epic, according to The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, is a long narrative poem describing the adventures of warriors and heroes on a vast scale. It is a polygonal, ‘heroic’ storey that combines myth, mythology, folklore, and history. Epics are typically of national significance because they encapsulate a nation’s history and aspirations in a lofty or grandiose manner. An epic or heroic poem is a work that fits at least the following criteria: it is a long verse storey on a serious subject, told in a formal and elevated manner, and centred on a heroic or quasi-divine figure whose actions determine the fate of a tribe, a nation, or the human species (A Glossary of Literary Terms). “Epic is a long narrative poem in a dignified style about the deeds of a traditional or historical hero or heroes; typically a poem like the Iliad or the Odyssey with certain formal characteristics,” according to Webster’s New World Dictionary.
Epic can be divided into two types:
1) The Primary Epic or Folk Epic. This is usually based on the life of a heroic figure and traces the hero’s achievement. The first is a primary epic was initially oral; it is also known as a primitive or traditional epic. Their written versions were released afterwards.
2) The Secondary Epic or Literary Epic is based on the life of a legend and is generously embroidered with poetic imagination. The secondary epic initially composed.
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are primary epics and Virgil’s Aeneid and Milton’s Paradise Lost are secondary epics.
Tragedy and epics are considered the highest literary genres by Aristotle. The writer of the literary Epic faces great challenges.
Characteristic Features of Epic
The epic has number of characteristic features which differentiate it from other forms of literature in general and poetry in particular. Following are some of the important characteristics of the epic:
1) The Hero must be a man of exceptional greatness. Achilles in Iliad and Adam in Paradise Lost.
2) The epic hero takes a long journey. Odysseus in Odyssey wanders in the Mediterranean region and in the later books goes in the underworld.
3) The setting encompasses vast space, for example, Paradise Lost is set in Heaven and Hell.
4) The supernatural element is commonly present in the epic. God and Goddesses take an active part. Apollo, Zeus, Thetis and Athena are such characters in Greek Epics. Johovah, Christ and the angels play their distinct roles in Paradise Lost.
5) Epics are Comprehensive and serious.
6) The Epics begin with Invocation and Proposition.
7) The action begins in the middle of things.
8) The Epic employs poetic devices like Homeric Epithet and Homeric simile. These poetic devices help the poet to develop a word picture.
9) The Literary Epic usually contains a list of main characters introduced with details about their achievements and temperament.
10) Other works which display the features of Epic like theme, setting and scope are also considered epics, for example, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Spenser’s Faeries Queene.
11) The epic has a grand size. It has an extensive and lofty narrative in verse. Sometimes the narrative is divided into number of sections which can be called as books. For example, Paradise Lost is divided into twelve books, and Homer’s Iliad into twenty four books.
12) Exaggeration is also an important characteristic of the epic. In order to make narratives interesting and grand, the epic writer uses hyperbole and exaggeration.
13) It also conveys a moral message. Every epic narrative gives some moral lesson to the readers. So, naturally, the epic becomes didactic in its nature.
14) The epic has sublime, elegant and universal themes. So it deals with the entire humanity having universal appeal.
15) The language or diction of the epic is lofty, grand and elegant. No common or colloquial language is used. Thus, the poet uses a specialized style.