Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors and Works


The epic or epic genre is a form of poetic narrative developed in ancient peoples in order to display the exploits of the heroes of yesteryear. With this enhancement of the heroic figures, it was sought to raise at most the names of the nations to which they belonged and generate fear before their adversaries. Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors

The epic, also called epic, was generated by ordinary people who, by requiring a figure greater than themselves in which to place their trust, faith, and hope in the face of the continuous invasions and wars that arose, created with stories the figures of supermen that could help them.

This is a custom that still persists. The stories were not always fictitious, in many cases, the exploits of common men were taken and exaggerated generating legends, in which at the end, not even the creators themselves knew what was true and what fantasy.

The origin of the epic is oral. Over time the most famous stories were compiled and transcribed into verses of major art in the well-known great works of the ancient epic, such as the Iliad (for Ilion, the other name by which Troy was known) and the Odyssey ( by Odysseus and his adventures) of Homer, to speak of the Greek contributions.

Although the common references around the epic are the works of Homer -who incidentally did not write these works but dictated them, since he was blind-, two millennia before the Sumerians already had their first epic manifestation, not only oral but also written.

It fell, then, to the inhabitants of the land between rivers to show the world The Epic of Gilgamesh, which narrates the life of the Mesopotamian titan who ruled Sumer.

This epic was written on clay tablets in cuneiform characters, around 2700 BC. C. approximately; to date, it is the oldest written epic poem. Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors

Influence of the epics

One could talk about various interesting topics to activate thought, but what is involved in this document is to highlight the power that these stories had to raise the morale of the peoples in which they arose.

In addition to the aforementioned, these stories aroused fear in the opposing sides of the believing peoples when the stories of Enkidu (Mesopotamian titan), Achilles or Aeneas (heroes of the Trojan war) or of Set or of Horus (Egyptian gods), to name a few.

The towns repeated the stories so much, with such fervor and intensity, that the characters went from popular imagery to cult, to religion. If we are located between the year 3000 a. C. and the year 500 a. C., what is manifested in this section is not so implausible.

The towns were ruled by myths. They were very superstitious; Therefore, a well-told story, with demigod heroes fighting for a population, generated in the inhabitants of those lands a euphoria in the battles. In the credulous enemies it came to unleash immense fear.

This point highlights how strong oral and written legacy can be in a population to generate momentous changes. The importance given to oral inheritance and the passage of information until it becomes known is great, the intimate link that shapes the identities of the communities and its link with letters and memory .


Like any narrative genre, the epic has peculiarities that differentiate it from the rest of the manifestations. The most relevant ones will be mentioned and explained below:

They are narrated in poetic prose or in verses of major art

When developing these literary works, the authors resorted to poetry, both free and with meter and rhyme. This attitude responds to a pedagogical-andragogical phenomenon.

The authors not only sought to capture their ideas and have them read and narrated to the population, but they also wanted the residents to memorize their contents.

It was no secret to anyone at that time that, when learning a text, it was easier to do so if each verse had a specific dimension and a sound that related it to another verse element. For this same reason the minstrels were declaiming the news from town to town using quatrains.

Formative and persuasive ideological character

All oral narrative pursues one goal: to communicate, to convey an idea. The epic does not escape this reality. The implementation of the epics sought to strengthen the sense of belonging and union of the inhabitants of the different towns, either those adjacent to the Mediterranean or those deep in Africa or Asia.

The idea of ​​belonging to something greater than the “I” exceeds the man himself. The existence of something greater consumes the minds of men; the epic gave individuals identity.

In addition to giving them the courage to be among their peers, the stories formed them around ideas, customs and habits, and this was inherited from father to son.

Another additive was the possibility of convincing the listener of information, either by continually repeating the idea or by the fact that the conception was massive: if a person did not believe, they were not part of the whole.

Sources could be real

The epic not only based its arguments on myths, it also included real events. These credible events were peppered with exaggerations, which gave the stories more convincing power.

When it was convinced that the origin of the legend was based on truthful facts, the force of the narrative reached a potential of a religious magic character.

They could be structured

As the dimensions of the epic expanded, it was necessary to structure it by chapters, which allowed a better appreciation at the time of being narrated.

It must be understood that all this of the structuring of epics was a product of their evolution, it did not result suddenly. Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors

Deification of the hero through his exploits

It is rare that some epic poem does not have a protagonist with characteristics of a hero. Now, the characteristics of all these supermen were exaggerated to give them a demigod character, with the aim of generating admiration on the part of the recipient.

It was intended that the inhabitants feel identified: if a subject “x” belongs to the population “y” and the hero “z” comes from that population, then that subject “x” has part of his powers; and if he gets into a conflict, his hero “z” will come out to defend him.

Narrator is omniscient and / or protagonist

When this is stated, it refers to the fact that the narrator may or may not be present during the play. It is not found in the story at every moment, as in the case of the lyrical genre ; however, it is not completely abstracted, as in the case of dramaturgy.

May include other literary genres

Epic is a very broad and responsive genre. During its development it can include, if it is the taste and the imaginative possibility of the author, other literary genres to enrich the plot and achieve other nuances to the narrative.

It is common to see in an epic work apexes of lyrical or drama for didactic purposes. This quality facilitates the extension of the speech in order to achieve a better explanation of the message that you want to convey, of the idea that you want to show.

It is done in the past tense

The lyrical speaker always expresses himself by conjugating the past tense; this, obviously, because it is recounting events that have occurred, it is describing real, fictitious or hybrid events that have already happened.


After the epic was conceived, a series of literary genres with similar characteristics appeared, which were organized and classified as sub-genres of the epic. They will be briefly mentioned and described below: Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors


This type of narrative is characterized by telling the memorable feats of a subject in favor of humanity or a specific population.

A clear example is in the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh who, after changing his bad mood thanks to his titanic counterpart, Enkidu, goes out into the world to do justice and do heroic deeds.

epic poem

Through verses of major art or poetic prose, this type of narrative is responsible for enhancing the qualities of a hero in order to exalt the nation to which he belongs. It has a distinctly patriotic air.

A clear example is Aquileida , the unfinished poem that Statius dedicated to the hero Achilles and in which he highlights his qualities for the war in favor of his country.


Epic poetic narrative with assonance rhyme, consisting of octosyllabic minor art verses and which is responsible for describing chivalric and warlike actions.

It originated in Spain and has an informative and pedagogical-andragogical purpose; hence the rhyme and the small size of the verses with respect to the Alexandrians.

They are closely linked to the clergy and it is said that their origin is ecclesiastical; however, recent studies have shown that they were in the public domain and used to be a means of efficiently and quickly transmitting the news.

It was very commonly used by minstrels in the 15th century in Spain. These characters were accompanied by lauds in the squares while they sang the news that occurred in neighboring towns in the form of verses. Rhyme and meter reinforced the reception of the people.

Most of the examples present belong to songbooks, such as the Rennert Songbook and  the Herberay des Essarts Songbook, both from the 15th century and with marked chivalric tendencies.

Traditional tale

It is one of the most popular epic subgenres. It is the narrative of some real or fictional event that happened to a character or a group.

It is concise and precise. It can be anonymous and / or literary, and almost always has a pedagogical-andragogical motive, seeking to leave a moral.

There are many examples, but one of the earliest manifestations of this subgenre in the Spanish language is  Count Lucanor, whose authorship is attributed to the infant Juan Manuel, during the 4th century.


It is a much longer story than the story, but it pursues the same purposes: to narrate the adventures of a protagonist subject in a real or imaginary world.

In this world a series of events takes place that, intertwined with each other, give way to the development of the plot until its denouement. Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors

Within this subgenre the literary work par excellence in the Spanish language can be named: The ingenious hidalgo: Don Quijote de La Mancha , by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra.

Authors and outstanding works

Among the most renowned authors, together with their works, the following stand out:

Homer (7th century BC)

He is credited with being the father of Greek epic. His works, the Iliad and the Odyssey , are world references of this genre.

Publio Virgilio Morón (70 BC-19 BC)

He was the man to whom Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor, conferred the honor of bringing the Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan people to the glory of letters.

Virgilio assumed the responsibility with great integrity and produced the Aeneid , the great work that narrates the adventures of Aeneas, the Trojan hero. It is worth noting that Virgil’s inspiration lay in the works of Homer.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Great Italian writer whose epic poem the Divine Comedy represented the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, in terms of thought and conception of the world.

An interesting fact is that the one who guides him on his journey during the plot (the main character is a representation of the writer) in search of his beloved Beatriz, is Virgilio. It was a kind of homage by Dante to the famous Roman poet.


All ancient civilizations made considerable contributions to literature through the epic. This narrative genre served as a link between the peoples and laid the cultural and religious foundations of many of them.

You have to delve into ancient epic narratives to nourish yourself and understand the multiple connections that existed between the different peoples that arose around the Mediterranean. There are multiplicity of links between the epics of these towns.

Historically Greece has been praised for its epics; however, Mesopotamia , Egypt and Ethiopia, to name a few peoples, also had very important contributions. It is necessary to diversify the study and read other options to enrich the perspectives.

Despite its high content of exaggerations, the epic is an important source of historical data. A clear example is the fact that the ruins of Troy and the dominions of Minos, in Crete, were discovered by Heinrich Schliemann thanks to the descriptions given by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey .

Epic narratives became the narrative deposit, oral and written, of the experiences of ancient peoples; the most intelligent way, between myth and reality, to perpetuate their experiences and their history. Epic Characteristics Subgenres Authors

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