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Epic is derived  from the Greek word 'epis' which means an unwritten narrative poem, celebrating incidents  of heroic  tradition. The Oxford  Companion to English Literature defines epic as a poem that celebrates in the form of a continuous narrative,  the achievements of one or more personages of history or tradition. In the modern sense epic is a highly developed literary growth describing a single deed of heroic achievement under the leadership of some capable individual enjoying the confidence of his peers. But in the course of the narrative,  the epic incorporates within itself, all the historical, geographical and ethical ideas current among the people. It must rise out of the very heart of the people,  and embody their essential ideals.

Epic: types & characteristics

Characteristics of Epic

A long narrative poem that tells in grand style the history and aspirations of a national hero. The general elements of an epic are:

(1) Invocation to the Muses and proposition of the subject matter in the beginning.

(2) A central hero of Superman quality who fights for national or collective interest.

(3) Involvement of supernatural elements (also known as machinery)

(4) A long perilous journey often on water

(5) An underworld journey

(6) Lofty language and high style

(7) Homeric similes

(8) Mighty battles

(9) Long speeches

(10) Feasts and revels

(11) Glorification of justice and peace.

Types of Epic

There are two types of epic: (1) primary or oral epic and (2) secondary or literary epic. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are primary epics. Virgil's Aeneid and Milton's Paradise Lost are secondary epics.

A primary epic is a type of epic through which the epic tradition was evolved. The secondary or literary epic is the epic which followed the tradition of the primary epic. In a primary epic the episodes taken from the oral tradition are linked with one another to make a longer story. For this reason a looseness in the construction is noticeable. In a secondary epic such looseness is not found. A primary epic displays savage and crude heroism but a secondary epic shows a more refined taste. In a primary epic supernatural elements are very significant but in a literary epic they are not so significant.

Mock - epic

A narrative poem which aims at mockery and laughter by using almost all the characteristic features of an epic but for a trivial subject. Pope's The Rape of the Lock is a famous mock-epic. In it there are invocation to Muses, proposition of subject, battles, supernatural machinery, journey on water, underworld journey, long speeches, feasts (coffee houses), Homeric similes and grand style but all for a simple family dispute instead of a national struggle. The grand treatment of a low subject produces hilarious laughter and makes the story more ridiculous.

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