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.