Epic: what it is, definition, characteristics, origin, types of epics and more.


What is the subgenre of the epic?

It is one of the most important subgenres of the epic or epic genre, as it is also known, since it is a type of text written in verse, often written in long verse or prose. In this type of text or writing, the actions or deeds of a character with a heroic spirit that includes supernatural elements in his adventure are presented narratively.

It is important to keep in mind and distinguish the epic from other epic and literary subgenres, since it is erroneously linked to the elements of a chronicle. The epic is not a real chronicle or a chronicle that specifically describes an event, but it is a story that narrates an event enriched with fictional and mythical touches that contain a value not only poetic, but moral, but also documentary and historical.

Meaning of the epic subgenre

The term epic comes from the Greek epopoiia, a word derived from the union of epos, which refers to a kind of poetic discourse or sung speech, and poiein, which means -to create-. Thus, the union of the term will be taken to mean a type of poem of great intensity that was used in order to describe in detail a series of events that may well be legendary or heroic.

Definition of the sub-genre of the epic

The epic is a narrative poem of great length that carries in its content a theme related to the exploits of a character of heroic spirit, so it can be written in prose or long verse. The events narrated in the epic are transcendental for a people, since in it are printed the most admired values of its citizens.

What is the subgenre of the epic

What is the function of the epic?

This subgenre focuses on a didactic function to the extent that it illustrates the relevant actions for a people, taking care that the information is disseminated and remains to pass from generation to generation. Some contain philosophical propositions from moral bases and the teaching of a set of values such as strength, honor, loyalty, love, perseverance, among others.

History and Origin of the epic

In its beginnings, the epic was a type of text that was transmitted orally, but soon they were collected and later recited by rhapsodes, which were also recited accompanied by musical instruments. Because of this, the first compositions were elaborated in verse, as this was the form in which they were recorded musically in memory.

The first recorded work of this subgenre comes from the Sumerian culture, Gilgamesh, which dates from 2750 B.C. It is a work that tells the story of a hero and king of the city of Uruk named Gilgamesh. In this text, a series of elements of the ancient Mesopotamian tradition are evident, including the constant search for eternal life, as well as the universal flood and the biblical tradition.

It is important that the epic has not disappeared in its entirety, but that it contained elements of antiquity. Nowadays, the epic has taken other forms in which are imprinted the values of a social space in which power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie, a kind of novel of modernity. The last date of creation of ancient epic dates from the Middle Ages, which begins to relate other models such as the cantares de gesta, which you will find in our section of epic genre or epic. By this time the hero was a man who sought the conquest of political power.

Characteristics of the epic subgenre

According to the above, we can identify the following particularities of the epic:

Plot of the works

In antiquity, the plot of the epic contained the exploits related mainly to events such as military or warlike contests, although aspects such as marvelous journeys, trips to the underworld, visions or prophetic dreams, among others, were also included.

However, their wide extensions began to be substantially reduced with the passage of time until their total disappearance. The reason for its disuse has to do with the fact that the works cease to be the reflection of a particular society whose power is given by war, where values such as honor embodied in heroic figures emerge.

Form of writing

The epics can be written in hexameter verse or prose, most are written in long verses, because they were written that way in antiquity, and contain long comparative images with an elaborate language. Prose begins to be used as a new form of song.

Narrator in the epic

The texts contain an omniscient narrator, also known as a third-person narrator. He does not participate in any of the events but his way of narrating is similar to a chronicle because he understands it and shares the reader with all the necessary information from the position of a spectator.

Real or fictional content

The stories written within an epic can have real content and still incorporate fictional elements, so that it does not respond faithfully to a particular situation, but often contains elements created by the writer. They are usually exaggerated stories due to the facts presented.

Supernatural elements

Taking into account this format that exaggerates in the epic, integrating supernatural elements becomes one of the best tools to enrich the work, thus leading to a supernatural context in which the hero is debated, they hinder his path or field of action, or in which he enters into interaction with mythological characters, such as the gods, who can contribute or deny the way to achieve his goal.

Link to tradition

Regardless of the amount of real or fantasy content, the plot of the epic usually refers to events, characters, values or virtues that are representative of a specific society. That is why, sometimes the epic becomes an integral part of the testimony of a people, since it can also give an account of their culture, traditions, religion, customs, etc.

Elements of a classical epic 

As for the ancient composition of this type of works, aspects such as the following stand out:


In the initial part the epic usually includes a plea or a kind of invocation to the Muse, this first part also contains a formulation to open the theme of the work that will often deal with events that took place during a war, a wonderful journey, a dispute or two events at once.

Action space

In this type of texts the authors used a great amount of space for the actions developed by their characters, especially their protagonists who often traveled through a great number of places. In fact, the action space of the heroic figures is so vast that they could go through other countries and even travel the universe.


Another of the basic aspects of the classical epic has to do with the constant intervention of the gods in the series of events that the hero experiences within the narrative. However, there are also other fantastic creatures that get involved in the affairs of human beings and have a great influence on the development of the epic.

On the other hand, it is also important to consider that epithets were used, various enumerations, as well as speeches, values embodied in the heroes and the tragic descent of the heroic figure in other cases from a descent into the underworld or hell.

Structure of the epic subgenre

Taking into account the elements and characteristics mentioned above, the epic follows a structure through which it is composed and presented to the public:

Exposition of the theme

in this first part, the hints of the plot or the presentation of the theme that the epic is going to be about are presented. It is considered the initial stage, although some authors also decide to present the theme in the course of the story or else in the middle of the plot using a literary technique in which the narration is applied in the middle of the story and not at the beginning.

Invocation to the muse or gods

the characters of the story, who can be human beings, mortals or demigods, usually invoke muses or gods in order to ask for protection in their journeys, battles and so on, in order to always obtain victory, especially in the face of battles or journeys.


it is the most extensive part of the whole text in which the battles and wars take place within the composition, it is usually the most emotional part within the epic in which the plot develops and all the tense moments that lead the characters to the most relevant conflict of the story are exalted.


in this part, after the great tension provoked during the epic knot, the solutions and rests of the obstacles take place, in which all the facts begin to be solved, the journeys are coming to an end as well as the battles. The denouement is not strictly speaking an aspect that leads to the victory of the hero, but in other cases it is a tragic denouement that leads to the misfortune of the members.


after the denouement comes the epilogue, which is the concrete final part of the epic in which the events that determined the particular end of the story and that gradually led to the denouement are narrated in a short form.

Types of the epic subgenre

Types of the epic subgenre

Due to the close relationship that the epic has with the virtues, traditions and beliefs of a people, the epic can develop in a particular way in different regions, an aspect that influences its composition and will give rise to various types of the epic. Thus, we can identify the following types:

Ancient Semitic epic

It is the oldest type of epic in which the confrontation between two heroes who represent the values of a people as opposed to natural values is narrated, so that both are created to be enemies but over time they become companions. This modality intends to show how the human being can transform into an almost divine being but never reaches the possibility of being a god.

Greek epic

In this category are all works written by authors such as Homer, who is credited with creating oral epic poems of the time. These stories often have themes such as wars and, in general, conflicts between kingdoms that highlight adventurous journeys undertaken by the heroes and a series of obstacles that they overcome in the course of the story.

Roman epic

This type of epic dates back to the first century B.C., created at the request of the then Emperor Augustus, who wanted a written work that would narrate the origin of the empire he had in his hands. From this moment on, other types of epics emerged, such as the legendary epic involving marvelous elements as well as divine intervention, the historical epic with human stories and fundamentally realistic, and finally the semi-historical epic that focuses on recent events and interventions of gods.

Eastern epic

This type of text focuses on an epic that includes samurai combat and in which a power struggle takes place between military clans. This type of epic is considered one of the most important representative pieces of Japanese literature, since it contains heroic characters, as well as emperors and ladies who are figures whose origin dates back to this territory.

Persian epic

This type of text focuses on the narration and representation of key elements of national identity. A clear example of this is the Book of Kings, an epic poem that narrates the origin of the Iranian people and is of great importance to it.

Hispanic Epic

During the existence of the Roman Empire, there was a large number of Hispanic authors who began to write epic poems in which they recorded the story of knights whose main objective was to highlight their courage and honor. Thus, this type of epic takes place especially during the Middle Ages with the diffusion of epics written in Latin. However, in the Renaissance, another production of epics began after the conquest of Spanish America with the cultural clashes and the invasion of this territory.

Hindustani epic

This type of epic arose in India. Thus, this type focuses on texts that speak of the historical origin, highlighting the religious narratives that speak not only of the origin, but also include moralizing messages. In this type of epic, texts such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata stand out.

Burlesque epic

It is a type of text in which the epic is written from a characterization of mocking content, as it intends to perform a parody within the epic narrative.

It is important to keep in mind that the epic is divided into other subgenres, such as: the epic song or epilion, the canto de gesta and the epilion. Visit them in our Literature section.

How to write an epic?

Now that we have seen how it is composed, what is its function and its characteristics, let’s move on to see how to write this type of text:

Build the hero 

Keep in mind that the story revolves around what happens to the hero of the story, so it is extremely important that you start by assigning a type of character to this character, which must be maintained throughout the epic. To do this you must establish his values and virtues, which will be the basis for him to move and reveal his own destiny, be it victorious or tragic according to the designs and events.

Set out the conflict 

For the knot of the story to be consolidated, there must be a central conflict in which the hero is struggling and which requires a decisive solution. Many of these obstacles are given by supernatural forces in the story, which, as mentioned, tend to exaggerate and endanger the characters themselves. For their solution, the hero finds himself in various difficulties that prevent him from achieving his goal.

Develops the ending 

The denouement takes place with the progressive exit of the difficulties and obstacles that arose in the knot of the story, so that this ending is presented step by step with the solution of the written problems. Remember that the end of the epic can generate both a catastrophic and tragic ending, as well as a victorious ending, everything will be given by the reader’s intention in which the moralizing aspect that must be present in the text is reflected.

A good way to enrich your imagination before starting, is to read several texts like this one, delve into its form and the twists that the author gives it to begin to explore all possible forms of composition and thus achieve a good result. Actually, this practice can be applied to any kind of writing you want to do.

Most important authors and works

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the most important works of the epic genre, especially of the epic, since it is the first work of this type of which there are records and the oldest found on clay tablets, since it dates from the Sumerian people around the second millennium BC.

Other important works that are particularly classified within the sub-genre of the epic are the Iliad and the Odyssey, texts attributed to Homer, as well as the Aeneid, written by Virgil. There is also the Shahnameh and the Mahabharata.

Example of an epic

The following is an excerpt from the work The Iliad, attributed to Homer, and which has become one of the most important texts of the epic subgenre in the world of literature:

And on either side of Priam, Pantheus,

Timetes, Lampo, Clitio and Icetaon

the companion of Ares,

Ucalegon and Antenor,

both very discreet,

seated were the elders of the

the elders of the town all of them,

From the Scean gates above,

for old age of the war retired,

more brave orators like the cicadas

like the cicadas that in the midst of the forest,

perched in a tree,

Emit a voice that is like a lily;

such were the chiefs, justly,

of the Trojans, who were seated on the tower

in the tower attached to the wall.

And these, then, when they saw

Helen on her way to the tower,

they spoke to one another,

with winged words, quietly:

“It is not a thing to be indignant about

that the Trojans have suffered so long

Trojan sorrows

and the Achaeans of fair greaves

for which woman is that

for she looks so much like her,

when you look at her face to face,

to immortal goddesses;

but even so, and being as I say,

she turns back to the ships and does not remain

for our and our children’s harm

in the future time.