What is an epic?

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

  1. What is an epic?

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

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

The focus of the epic story is always a warrior protagonist (the hero) endowed with extraordinary virtues and involved in wonderful, fantastic or magical events , and whose figure usually embodies the set of moral , ethical and political values of the community , which is why which she identifies with him and transmits to her generations to come her supposed feats.

Seen this way, an epic  does not aspire to be a real 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 historical and documentary.

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

  1. Origin of the epic

The first epic that is known comes from the Sumerian culture.

The diverse human cultures have produced a very varied set of epics, since having stories that explain who they are, where they come from and what differentiates them from one of the others, seems to be a social and imaginary necessity of civilizations

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

Reason for which they are usually composed in verses . Later they would be transcribed and stored in papyri, books or tablets , often modifying significant details of their narrative.

The first epic that is known comes from the Sumerian culture. His warrior hero and king of the city of Uruk is Gilgamesh, and in his account there are elements of the ancestral Mesopotamian tradition, such as the universal flood or the search for eternal life, also present in other traditions, such as the biblical one. The  poem of G lgamesh  was preserved on tablets, by cuneiform writing, and dates from 2750 BC

  1. Epic examples

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

  • The  Iliad . Narrated by Homer, who does not know if it really existed, but is supposed to be a blind slave dedicated to oral narration. He 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 fight between numerous heroes on both sides.
  • The  Odyssey . Also related by Homer, he tells of the rugged and long return home of Odysseus (the Roman Ulysses), after the end of the Trojan War. It is a 10-year adventure that culminates with a return home, where his wife Penelope was waiting for him.
  • The  Aeneid . Composed by Virgil, a poet of the Roman Empire, he tells of the escape of the Trojan hero Aeneas during the burning of his city, as well as the trip he then undertakes through the Mediterranean, until finally arriving in Italy, on the banks of the Tiber River, where he would found The coming Roman lineage.
  • The  Shahnameh . Known as the  Book of Kings , it was composed by Persian Aeda Ferdousi. It tells the story of ancestral Iran and the people of the Sasanids.
  • The  Majabhárata . Epic of Indian origin, written in Sanskrit and key to the foundation of the Hindu religion. It is one of the epic stories of greater length of which there is a record.

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