Epic Examples In Literature

What is Epic?

Epic is a great and grand narrative usually about high-stakes, heroic figures, involving significant scale or scope. It’s a form of storytelling that goes back to ancient times and started from oral tradition where stories written in the past were passed down through generations. A typical epic is one which narrates the heroic journey of an individual who goes through considerable hardships and overcomes them against almost insurmountable odds.

Most of the time, this hero is representative for values ​​and sometimes universal morals and his journey was not only physical but also emotional and spiritual. The places where epics take place are often vast, reaching continents or whole worlds and time span can include years, decades or centuries. Sometimes these stories contain fragments of myth, legend and history merged so well that it creates a larger than life story.

An aesthetic language of an epic is usually grandiose, intended to create a feeling of sublimity. And at the heart of an epic lies a depiction about what it means to be human, how resilient our spirit can become and that we search for something larger than ourselves out there. It’s a tribute to human accomplishments and the eternal power of narratives.

Examples of Literary Epic

The Odyssey by Homer: The Odyssey is an ancient Greek epic poem that stands as one of the cornerstones in Western literature. It narrates the odyssey of Odysseus, a hero as he makes his way back home through different barriers and temptations. It is an account of resilience, smartness and the lasting impact of home and family.

Mahabharata: The Mahabharata is one of the longest poems known in history, an epic narrative from India. It is a complicated tale of many characters but it’s about the Kurukshetra War and what happens to Kaurava, Pandava princes. Its motifs include the duty, righteousness and moral dilemmas of warfare and governance.

Beowulf: This Old English epic poem tells the story of Beowulf, a great warrior who fights off against Grendel monster, and his mother while later in life he kills another fearful dragon. It is a story of bravery, death and the mark one leaves.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: While it does not fit the classic idea of an epic, this Italian work whisks its readership on a grand tour through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. It is an allegory of the soul’s journey toward God it shows how people can be redeemed morality what universe we live in.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: This epic poem is one of the oldest works of literature known to have originated from ancient Mesopotamia. It narrates the story of Gilgamesh, a king who attempts to find immortality but learns about friendship and limitations that all humans face.

Characteristics of Epic

Heroic Protagonist: At the core of any epic, we have a hero who may be superhuman or just extremely special. This is a character of ideals and values for the culture from which this epic emerges. They are generally on some sort of journey that challenges their strength, character and determination.

Vast Setting: Epics feature vast settings. The action may spans across the nations, worlds or even universe. This wide range points to the greatness of hero’s journey that is covered and obstacles during it.

Elevated Language and Style: Epics are usually written in a formal and grand language. This style contributes to the grandeur and serious character of a narrative, lifting up story beyond common human feeling.

Supernatural Elements: Epics often feature gods, mythical creatures and supernatural events. These features underscore the heroic status of such a journey, and often use as allegories for more profound truths or moral lessons.

Exploration of Universal Themes: Epics explore themes that are universal and timeless, such a battle between good and evil. evil, life and death, struggle for power , search of immortality or enlightenment. These themes transcend cultures and time periods, making epics perennial works.

Incorporation of Myth and Legend: Many epics mingle the actual history with myth and legend merging reality with fantastic stuff. More often than not, this blending helps strengthen the cultural and moral values of society from which an epic is born.

Long Narrative Structure: Epics are often long, with an intricate storyline. They usually involve more than one plot line and may feature a large number of characters, each contributing to the complete picture that constitutes the story.

Moral and Philosophical Depth: While entertaining, epics express profound moral and philosophical messages. They raise questions about the human condition, ethics and of what makes up our universe.

What is Epic Poetry?

Epic poetry is a unique form of literature, one kind of storytelling that’s both big in scope and filled with its tale. Imagine a wide field where narrations do not merely happen; they’re intertwined in the richness and vast depth of tapestry. At heart, epic poetry is the narration of large stories – heroic tales, myths about gods and goddesses as well as universal powers driving change in this world.

These are long poems, but it is not only their length that distinguishes them. Dive into adventures that frequently dictate the fate of entire nations or worlds. The main characters of these epics are heroic men with extraordinary character they have such qualities as courage, wisdom or strength. Their life-paths are riddled with obstacles that challenge their limits and prompt them to change or grow.

In epic poetry the stakes are often high, not only battles or quests can also be physical and spiritual journey. Usually, the language is elevated and tries to overwhelm because of such grandness in some story. This is not just about fine words; it’s a style that makes the narrative almost mythical.

But epic poetry isn’t all just about narrating a story; it is of relating to something beyond life. It’s a way to look into big questions and themes, such as good vs evil them, the idea of heroism in our world amongst humans itself struggling with forces beyond us. These stories provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our own world, struggles and dreams through a grand narrative itself as vast as the topics it deals in.

Examples of Epic in literature


“The Odyssey” by Homer

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”

The opening line of the poem introduces the main elements, that are helpful to define an epic. Firstly, the poet calls upon the Muse, which represents the source of artistic inspiration in Greek mythology to sing about the epic story he will relate. This device serves to establish the grand, elevated style and importance of what is to follow. Homer refers to Odysseus, the protagonist of the epic, as ‘the man of twists and turns’. This epithet encapsulates Odysseus’s defining qualities – his resourcefulness and cunning but also his tendency to be ‘driven off course’ on his long and winding journey back home after the Trojan War. The epic poem opens in the middle of the action after Odysseus has already won victory at Troy through his legendary Trojan Horse stratagem. This technique immerses audiences in the ongoing story and world of the epic.


“The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”

The above excerpt is famous and sets the scene for his epic poem. The “journey of our life” refers to the journey of human existence. Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood, which represents being lost in sin and error. The “straight way” that is lost is the morally righteous path. So Dante establishes that he has strayed morally and spiritually into a metaphorical dark forest, setting up the rest of the epic poem in which he journeys through the circles of Hell, Purgatory, and finally to the light and revelation of Paradise. The line epitomizes the overall spiritual message of the work – that the journey of life should lead us out of darkness and toward truth and virtue.


“Paradise Lost” by John Milton

“Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat…”

Here above, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has been referred. They did not follow the command of the God and ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. As a result, sin, suffering, and death entered the world, and humanity lost its original paradise. These opening lines from Milton’s epic refer to this biblical Fall of Man. The lines also foreshadow Milton’s narrative of Satan’s rebellion in Heaven, the temptation of Adam and Eve, their expulsion from Eden, and hint at Christ’s redemption. So in these opening lines we get a broad summation of the epic’s central theological focus on sin, the Fall, and salvation that Milton will develop through his poetic retelling of these foundational biblical stories.



“Lo, the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements
The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,
How princes displayed then their prowess in-battle.
Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers”

These lines from the Old English epic Beowulf introduce the Spear-Danes, the people of King Hrothgar, who is the focus of the first part of the poem. The poet establishes the fame and legendary heroic reputation of the Spear-Danes by evoking “folk-kings’ former fame” that the poet has heard about. This connects the Spear-Danes to a heroic past going back to mythic times. The reference to Scyld Scefing, the great founding ancestor of Hrothgar’s people, begins a short sketch of the history of this dynasty, grounded in valor and feats of arms – “princes displayed then their prowess in battle.” So these opening lines situate the Spear-Danes within an epic tradition of oral legends and stories praising the great deeds of kings and warriors. This heroic cultural context sets up the main action involving Hrothgar and Beowulf in Denmark.


“The Aeneid” by Virgil

“I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate, first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to Lavinian shores – much buffeted on land and on the deep by force of the gods, because of cruel Juno’s remorseless anger.”

The excerpt establishes the epic subject matter – “arms and the man” – that is, war and a heroic protagonist. That hero is Aeneas, who after surviving the Trojan War, goes into exile, fated to found the Roman nation. Specifically, these lines introduce Aeneas’ journey from Troy to Italy after the sack of Troy. They situate Aeneas as already a symbol of Roman identity, while also a wandering hero who suffers greatly at sea due to divine machinations before arriving at his destined homeland in Italy. The reference to “cruel Juno’s remorseless anger” hints at the divine feuding that will drive much of the action. So in the very first line, Virgil grounds his epic in the mythic tale of Aeneas that links Rome back to the ancient city of Troy, beginning the heroic narrative that will lead to Aeneas fulfilling his fate in Italy. This establishes the grand trajectory of the Roman founding epic to follow.


“The Iliad” by Homer

“Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done.”

The passage from Homer’s The Iliad requests the Goddess’s help in telling the story of “Achilles’ rage” and its tragic consequences in the Trojan War. The reference to Achilles’ “black and murderous” rage that costs countless Greek lives alludes to a central plot point – Achilles’ quarrel with Agamemnon and subsequent refusal to fight, which allows the Trojans to gain the upper hand. This “rage” leads to immense suffering and death for Greek warriors at the hands of the Trojans, whose bodies are left unburied for scavengers, in accordance with “Zeus’ will.” So these opening lines establish the wrathful withdrawal of the Greek’s greatest warrior, Achilles, as the narrative problem to be explored, with sweeping tragic results that determine the fates of many other Greek heroes. We are given a preview of the death and devastation to be depicted on an epic scale as a result of this “rage.”

Epic Examples In Literature
Epic Examples In Literature

Related Terms

Epic Hero

An epic hero is a main character in an epic poem or story. He is usually of high social status, who represents the values of his culture. Famous examples of epic hero include Odysseus from ‘Homer’s Odyssey’ and Achilles from the ‘Iliad’.

In Medias Res

In Latin, medias res means ‘in the middle of things’. It is a technique used in epics where the story starts at an exciting point in the action not from the beginning. The backstory is revealed later. This pulls the reader into the story. The examples of epics that use in medias res are: ‘Homer’s Iliad’ which opens during the Trojan War and ‘Milton’s Paradise Lost’ which begins with Satan already fallen into Hell.

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