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2002 stamp from Tunisia showing a mosaic of Vergil.

2002 stamp from Tunisia showing a mosaic of Vergil.

[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Virgil-Mosaic] Public Domain Courtesy of Wikipedia

The term epic, whether in the context of Ancient/Classical history or modern literature, usually refers to a long literary piece that involves the impossible and/or fantastic exploits of a hero in the face of what appear almost insurmountable odds. However, ancient epic is actually more strictly defined. In the first place, ancient epic is poetry, written in a specific meter, if in Greek or Latin.

Ancient epic poetry is defined in terms of its content and style:

  • In epic poetry the heroes come from the heroic era.
  • In epic poetry the heroes are bound by a code of honor.
  • The form of the poem is verse -- hexameters for Greek and Latin -- sometimes called epic meter.
  • The language is often formulaic.
  • The material of epic is elevated and does not dwell on the banal details of life.
  • In epic poetry, catalogues (like the famous catalogue of ships 'νεῶν κατάλογος' in Book II of The Iliad) are long and
  • Speeches are frequent.
Also Known As: epic, epic poetry
Common Misspellings: epec
Greek and Latin epic poetry is defined by its hexameters. Elegiac poetry also uses hexameters, but they alternate with pentameters. The most famous Greek epics are ascribed to Homer. These are The Iliad and The Odyssey. For the Romans, it was Vergil or Virgil, author of The Aeneid. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia.

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