Epic – Concept, origin and examples

We explain what an epic is, how it originated and some examples of this ancient literary genre.

Epics are one of the oldest known story forms.

What is an Epic?

The works of the ancient literary genre of the epic are known as epic, in which the different foundational narrative works, long-winded, that make up the mythological, political or cultural tradition of a nation.

It is one of the oldest known story forms, which generally includes a set of heroic, mythical and mythological episodes, in which the world vision of a culture is built and generally begins.

The focus of the epic tale is always a warrior protagonist (the hero) endowed with extraordinary virtues and involved in wonderful, fantastic or magical events, and whose figure generally embodies the set of moral, ethical and political values ​​of the community, which is why it identifies with him and transmits his supposed exploits to future generations.

Seen like this, an epic does not aspire to be a true or faithful chronicle of what happened, but rather a story seasoned with fiction, in the style of myths, which has a cultural and poetic value, rather than a historical and documentary one.

That is why the gods, ritual practices, local geography, monsters of their imaginary and other elements usually appear in it that give the community an exalted notion of their origin.

Origin of the epic

The first known epic comes from the Sumerian culture.

The various human cultures have produced a very varied set of epics, given that having stories that explain who one is, where one comes from and what differentiates one from the others, seems to be a social and imaginary need to civilizations.

It is not surprising, then, that many of them predate the invention of writing, and their stories were initially transmitted orally, collected and recited by rhapsodies or bards, and accompanied by music.

Reason why they are usually composed in verses. Later they would be transcribed and kept on papyri, books or tablets, often modifying significant details of his narrative.

The first known epic comes from the Sumerian culture. His warrior hero and king of the city of Uruk is Gilgamesh, and in his story elements of the ancient Mesopotamian tradition emerge, such as the universal flood or the search for eternal life, also present in other traditions, such as the biblical one. The G poemilgamesh It was preserved on tablets, by means of cuneiform writing, and dates from the year 2750 BC

Examples of epic

Some of the most famous epics of humanity are, along with that of Gilgamesh, the following:

  • The Iliad. Narrated by Homer, of whom it is not known if he really existed, but it is assumed that he was a blind slave dedicated to oral narration. It recounts some of the 10 years that the war between Greece and the city of Troy lasted, as well as the defeat of the latter and the struggle between numerous heroes on both sides.
  • The Odyssey. Also recounted by Homer, it tells of Odysseus’ (Roman Ulysses) uneven and long return home, after the end of the Trojan War. It is a 10-year adventure that culminates in a return home, where his wife Penelope awaited him.
  • The Aeneid. Composed by Virgil, a poet of the Roman Empire, it tells of the flight of the Trojan hero Aeneas during the burning of his city, as well as the journey he then undertakes through the Mediterranean, until finally reaching Italy, on the banks of the Tiber River, where he would found the coming Roman race.
  • The Shahnameh. Known as the Book of kings, was composed by the Persian Aeda Ferdousi. It tells the story of ancient Iran and the people of the Sassanids.
  • The Mahabharata. Epic of Indian origin, written in Sanskrit and key to the founding of the Hindu religion. It is one of the longest epic tales on record.