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Epic poetry facts for kids

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Victen Roman muse mosaic
Centrepiece of Roman mosaic depicting the muses found in Vichten, Luxembourg. It shows Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, with the poet Homer

Epic poetry is one of the main forms of poetry, with lyrics and drama. Epic poetry tells a dramatic story. There are characters in the story. It is usually long, and takes place in different settings.

Beowulf is a typical example, written in Old English. Gawain and the Green Knight was written later in a dialect of Middle English. Well-known people who wrote epics were Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Dante, Edmund Spenser and Milton. William Wordsworth's Prelude plays with epic ideas though the poem is autobiography.


Epics have eight main characteristics:

  1. The hero is outstanding. They might be important, and historically or legendarily significant.
  2. The setting is large. It covers many nations, or the known world.
  3. The action is made of deeds of great valour or requiring superhuman courage.
  4. Supernatural forces—gods, angels, demons—insert themselves in the action.
  5. It is written in a very special style (verse as opposed to prose).
  6. The poet tries to remain objective.
  7. Epic poems are believed to be supernatural and real by the hero and the villain

Conventions of epics:

  1. It starts with the theme or subject of the story.
  2. Writer invokes a Muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus. The poet prays to the Muses to provide him with divine inspiration to tell the story of a great hero. (This convention is restricted to cultures which were influenced by Classical culture: the Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, or the Bhagavata Purana would obviously not contain this element).
  3. Narrative opens in medias res, or in the middle of things, usually with the hero at his lowest point. Usually flashbacks show earlier portions of the story.
  4. Catalogues and genealogies are given. These long lists of objects, places, and people place the finite action of the epic within a broader, universal context. Often, the poet is also paying homage to the ancestors of audience members.
  5. Main characters give extended formal speeches.
  6. Use of the epic simile.
  7. Heavy use of repetition or stock phrases.
  8. It presents the heroic ideals such as courage, honour, sacrifice, patriotism and kindness.
  9. An epic gives a clear picture of the social and cultural patterns of the contemporary life. Beowulf thus shows the love of wine, wild celebration, war, adventure and sea-voyages.




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