Epic poetry

Epic poetry

An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Milman Parry and Albert Lord have argued that the Homeric epics, the earliest works of Western literature, were fundamentally an oral poetic form. These works form the basis of the epic genre in Western literature. Nearly all Western epic (including Vergil's Aeneid and Dante's Divine Comedy) self-consciously presents itself as a continuation of the tradition begun by these poems. Classical epic continues to employ dactylic hexameter and centers its plots around the theme of a journey, either physical (as typified by Odysseus in the Odyssey) or mental (as typified by Achilles in the Iliad) or both. Epics tend also to highlight cultural norms and to define or call into question cultural values, particularly as they pertain to heroism.

Another type of epic poetry is epyllion (plural: epyllia), which is a brief narrative poem with a romantic or mythological theme. The term, which means "little epic", came into use in the nineteenth century. It refers primarily to the erudite, shorter hexameter poems of the Hellenistic period and the similar works composed at Rome from the age of the neoterics; to a lesser degree, the term includes some poems of the English Renaissance, particularly those influenced by Ovid. The most famous example of classical epyllion is perhaps Catullus 64.

Some of the most famous examples of epic poetry include the ancient Indian Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Ancient Greek Iliad and the Odyssey, the Old English Beowulf, and the Portuguese Lusiads.

Oral epics or world folk epics

The first epics were products of preliterate societies and oral poetic traditions. In these traditions, poetry is transmitted to the audience and from performer to performer by purely oral means.

Early twentieth-century study of living oral epic traditions in the Balkans by Milman Parry and Albert Lord demonstrated the paratactic model used for composing these poems. What they demonstrated was that oral epics tend to be constructed in short episodes, each of equal status, interest and importance. This facilitates memorization, as the poet is recalling each episode in turn and using the completed episodes to recreate the entire epic as he performs it. Parry and Lord also showed that the most likely source for written texts of the epics of Homer was dictation from an oral performance.

Epic: a long narrative poem in elevated style presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race. (Harmon and Holman)

An attempt to delineate ten main characteristics of an epic:

  1. Begins in medias res.
  2. The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe.
  3. Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation).
  4. Begins with a statement of the theme.
  5. Includes the use of epithets.
  6. Contains long lists, called an epic catalogue.
  7. Features long and formal speeches.
  8. Shows divine intervention on human affairs.
  9. Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization.
  10. Often features the tragic hero's descent into the Underworld or hell.

The hero generally participates in a cyclical journey or quest, faces adversaries that try to defeat him in his journey and returns home significantly transformed by his journey. The epic hero illustrates traits, performs deeds, and exemplifies certain morals that are valued by the society the epic originates from. Many epic heroes are recurring characters in the legends of their native culture.

Conventions of epics:

  1. Praepositio: Opens by stating the theme or cause of the epic. This may take the form of a purpose (as in Milton, who proposed "to justify the ways of God to men"); of a question (as in the Iliad, which Homer initiates by asking a Muse to sing of Achilles' anger); or of a situation (as in the Song of Roland, with Charlemagne in Spain).
  2. Invocation: 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 obviously restricted to cultures influenced by European Classical culture. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, or the Bhagavata Purana would obviously not contain this element).
  3. In medias res: narrative opens "in the middle of things", with the hero at his lowest point. Usually flashbacks show earlier portions of the story.
  4. Enumeratio: 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. Epithet: Heavy use of repetition or stock phrases: e.g., Homer's "rosy-fingered dawn" and "wine-dark sea."

Poets in literate societies have sometimes copied the epic format. The earliest surviving European examples are the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes and Virgil's Aeneid, which follow both the style and subject matter of Homer. Other obvious examples are Nonnus' Dionysiaca, Tulsidas' Sri Ramacharit Manas.

Notable epic poems

This list can be compared with two others, national epic and list of world folk-epics.

Ancient epics (to 500)

  • 20th to 10th century BC:
    • Epic of Gilgamesh (Mesopotamian mythology)
    • Atrahasis (Mesopotamian mythology)
    • Enuma Elish (Babylonian mythology)
    • Legend of Keret (Ugaritic mythology)
    • Cycle of Kumarbi (Hurrian mythology)
    • The Poem of Pentaur (Ancient Egyptian account of the battle of Kadesh)

(The date of compositions of Babylonian epics is often hard to determine, as they may survive on manuscripts that are much later than the first composition. There is also the complication that they underwent successive revisions and redactions.)

  • 8th century BC to 3rd century AD:
    • Mahabharata, ascribed to Veda Vyasa (Hindu mythology)
    • Ramayana, ascribed to Valmiki (Hindu mythology)

The dates of origin of these Hindu epics are hard to determine, as they existed for a long time in history as oral traditions with numerous versions and also in different regions of India and South Asia.

  • 8th to 6th century BC:
    • Iliad, ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)
    • Odyssey, ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)
    • Works and Days, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
    • Theogony, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
    • Catalogue of Women, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)
    • Shield of Heracles, ascribed to Hesiod (Greek mythology)

The following poems pertaining Greek mythology were written during this period but they are known only through fragments

    • Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliupersis, Nostoi and Telegony, forming the so-called Epic Cycle
    • Oedipodea, Thebaid, Epigoni and Alcmeonis, forming the so-called Theban Cycle
    • A series of poem ascribed to Hesiod during antiquity: Aegimius (alternatively ascribed to Cercops of Miletus), Astronomia, Descent of Perithous, Idaean Dactyls (almost completely lost), Megala Erga, Megalai Ehoiai, Melampodia and Wedding of Ceyx
    • Capture of Oechalia, ascribed to Homer or Creophylus of Samos during antiquity
    • Phocais, ascribed to Homer during antiquity
    • Titanomachy ascribed to Eumelus of Corinth
    • Danais (written by one of the cyclic poets and from which the Danaid tetralogy of Aeschylus draws its material), Minyas and Naupactia, almost completely lost
  • 3rd century BC:
    • Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes
  • 2nd century BC:
    • Annales by Quintus Ennius (Roman History)
  • 1st century BC:
    • Aeneid by Virgil (Roman mythology)
    • De rerum natura by Lucretius (Latin Literature, Epicurean philosophy)
  • 1st century AD:
    • Metamorphoses by Ovid (Greek and Roman mythology)
    • Pharsalia by Lucan (Roman history)
    • Punica by Silius Italicus (Roman history)
    • Argonautica by Gaius Valerius Flaccus (Roman poet, Greek mythology)
    • Thebaid and Achilleid by Statius (Roman poet, Greek mythology)
  • 2nd century:
    • Buddhacarita by Asvaghoṣa (Indian epic poetry)
    • Saundaranandakavya by Asvaghoṣa (Indian epic poetry)
  • 2nd to 5th century:
    • The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature:
      • Silappadikaram by Prince Ilango Adigal
      • Manimekalai by Seethalai Saathanar
      • Civaka Cintamani by Tirutakakatevar
      • Kundalakesi by a Buddhist poet
      • Valayapati by a Jaina poet
  • 3rd to 4th century:
    • Posthomerica by Quintus of Smyrna
  • 4th century:
    • Evangeliorum libri by Juvencus
    • Kumarasambhava by Kalidasa (Indian epic poetry)
    • Raghuvaṃsa by Kalidasa (Indian epic poetry)
    • De Raptu Proserpinae by Claudian
  • 5th century:
    • Argonautica Orphica by Anonymous
    • Dionysiaca by Nonnus

Medieval epics (500-1500)

  • 7th century:
    • Tain Bo Cuailnge (Old Irish)
    • Bhattikavya, Sanskrit courtly epic based on the Ramayana and the Aṣtadhyayi of Panini
    • Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi, Sanskrit epic based on an episode in the Mahabharata
    • Shishupala Vadha by Magha, Sanskrit epic based on another episode in the Mahabharata
  • 8th to 10th century:
    • Beowulf (Old English)
    • The Fight at Finnsburh, known as a brief fragment in Old English
    • Waldere, Old English version of the story told in Waltharius (below), known only as a brief fragment
    • David of Sasun (Armenian)
  • 9th century:
    • Bhagavata Purana (Sanskrit) "Stories of the Lord", based on earlier sources
    • Lay of Hildebrand and Muspilli (Old High German, c.870)


  • 10th century:
    • Shahnameh (Persian literature; details Persian legend and history from prehistoric times to the fall of the Sassanid Empire, by Ferdowsi)
    • Waltharius by Ekkehard of St. Gall (Latin); about Walter of Aquitaine
    • Poetic Edda (no particular authorship; oral tradition of the Norse)
    • Vikramarjuna Vijaya and Ādi purana, c. 941, Kannada poems by Adikavi Pampa
    • Shantipurana, c. 950, Kannada poem by Sri Ponna
    • Ajitha Purana and Gadaayuddha, c.993 and c.999, Kannada poems by Ranna
    • Neelakesi (Tamil Jain epic)
  • 11th century:
    • Taghribat Bani Hilal (Arabic); see also Arabic epic literature
    • Ruodlieb (Latin), by a German author
    • Digenis Akritas (Greek); about a hero of the Byzantine Empire
    • Epic of King Gesar (Tibetan)
    • Carmen Campidoctoris, the first poem about El Cid Campeador (c. 1083)
    • Borzu Nama, ascribed to 'Amid Abu'l 'Ala' 'Ata b. Yaqub Kateb Razi (Persian epic with a main character and a poetic style related to the "Shahnameh")
    • Faramarz Nama (Persian epic with a main character and a poetic style related to the "Shahnameh")
    • Moremi, a part of the Yoruba corpus of divine traditions. It is commonly considered to be a continuation of the story of Oduduwa, the protagonist's father-in-law.
    • Oduduwa, a part of the Yoruba corpus of divine traditions. Although the period that the dynastic section of the corpus describes is commonly believed to be the 11th century, its divine section deals with the origin of the world itself, and the holy Yoruba city of Ile-Ife is known to be an ancient settlement that dates to a time long before the birth of Christ. Due to this being the case, it may well be safe to assume that the earliest aspects of the corpus are from the ancient era.
    • Oranyan, a part of the Yoruba corpus of divine traditions. It is commonly considered to be a continuation of the story of Oduduwa, the protagonist's father.
  • 12th century:
    • Chanson de Roland (Old French)
    • The Knight in the Panther's Skin (Georgian) by Shota Rustaveli
    • Alexandreis by Walter of Chatillon (Latin)
    • De bello Troiano and the lost Antiocheis by Joseph of Exeter
    • Carmen de Prodicione Guenonis, version of the story of the Song of Roland in Latin
    • Architrenius by John of Hauville, Latin satire
    • Liber ad honorem Augusti by Peter of Eboli, narrative of the conquest of Sicily by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor (Latin)
    • The Tale of Igor's Campaign and Bylinas (11th-19th centuries)
    • Karel ende Elegast (Medieval Dutch)
    • Roman de Troie by Benoit de Sainte-Maure, medieval re-telling of the Trojan War
    • Poem of Almeria (Latin)
    • Roman de Brut and Roman de Rou by Wace, chronicles in Norman language
    • Eupolemius by an anonymous German-speaking author
    • Bahman Nama and Kush Nama, ascribed to Hakim iransah b. Abi'l Khayr
    • Banu Goshasp Nama
    • Ramavataram by Kambar, based on the "Ramayana"
  • 13th century:
    • Philippide (Latin) by William the Breton
    • Nibelungenlied (Middle High German)
    • Kudrun (Middle High German)
    • Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach (Middle High German)
    • Brut by Layamon (Early Middle English)
    • Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise ("Song of the Albigensian Crusade"; Occitan)
    • Antar (Arabic); see also Arabic epic literature
    • Sirat al-Zahir Baibars (Arabic); see also Arabic epic literature
    • Osman's Dream (Ottoman Turkish)
    • Epic of Sundiata
    • El Cantar de Mio Cid, Spanish epic of the Reconquista (Old Spanish)
    • De triumphis ecclesiae by Johannes de Garlandia (Latin)
    • Gesta Regum Britanniae by William of Rennes (Latin)
    • Poema de Fernan Gonzalez, cantar de gesta by a monk of San Pedro de Arlanza; 1250-1266 (Old Spanish)
    • Jewang ungi by Yi Seung-hyu ("Rhymed Chronicles of Sovereigns"; 1287 Korea)
    • Basava purana by Palkuriki Somanatha (Telugu)
  • 14th century:
    • Confessio Amantis by John Gower (c. 1350)
    • Cursor Mundi by an anonymous cleric (c. 1300)
    • Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri (Italian)
    • Africa by Petrarch (Latin)
    • The Tale of the Heike (Japanese epic war tale)
    • The Brus by John Barbour
    • La Spagna, attributed to Sostegno di Zanobi (c. 1350-1360)
    • Mocedades de Rodrigo, anonymous Castilian cantar de gesta (c. 1360)
    • Siege of Jerusalem (c. 1370-1380, Middle English)
    • Zafar-Nameh by Hamdollah Mostowfi
    • The Ballads of Marko Kraljievic, group of poems about Prince Marko of Serbia
  • 15th century:
    • Alliterative Morte Arthure (Middle English)
    • Orlando innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo (1495)
    • Shmuel-Bukh (Old Yiddish chivalry romance based on the Biblical book of Samuel)
    • Mlokhim-Bukh (Old Yiddish epic poem based on the Biblical Books of Kings)
    • Book of Dede Korkut
    • Morgante by Luigi Pulci (1485), with elements typical of the mock-heroic genre
    • The Wallace by Blind Harry (Scottish chivalric poem)
    • Greysteil (Scottish chivalric poem)
    • Troy Book by John Lydgate, about the Trojan war (Middle English)
    • Heldenbuch, a group of manuscripts and prints of the 15th and 16th centuries, typically including material from the Theodoric cycle and the cycle of Hugdietrich, Wolfdietrich and Ortnit

Modern epics (from 1500)

  • 16th century:
    • Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1516)
    • Christiad by Marco Girolamo Vida (1535)
    • Os Lusiadas by Luis de Camões (c.1572)
    • L'Amadigi by Bernardo Tasso (1560)
    • La Araucana by Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga (1569-1589)
    • La Gerusalemme liberata by Torquato Tasso (1575)
    • La Trasimenide by Matteo dall'Isola
    • Ramacharitamanasa (based on the Ramayana) by Goswami Tulsidas (1577)
    • Lepanto by King James VI of Scotland (1591)
    • Matilda by Michael Drayton (1594)
    • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (1596)
    • Arauco Domado by Pedro de Ona (1596)
  • 17th century:
    • La Argentina by Martin del Barco Centenera (1602)
    • The Barons' Wars by Michael Drayton (1603; early version 1596 entitled Mortimeriados)
    • The Whole Works of Homer Prince of Poets by George Chapman (1616) a retelling of the Iliad and Odyssey in iambic rhyming couplets: the Iliad in iambic heptameter, and the Odyssey in iambic pentameter.
    • Les Tragiques by Agrippa D'Aubigne (1616)
    • La Cristiada by Diego de Hojeda (1611)
    • L'Adone ("Adonis", published in 1623; heroic poem based on Roman mythology), Gerusalemme distrutta ("Jerusalem Destroyed", 1626), Anversa liberata ("Antwerp Freed", of uncertain attribution) and Strage degl'Innocenti ("Massacre of the Innocents", 1632; sacred poem) by Giambattista Marino
    • La Cleopatra by Girolamo Graziani (1632)
    • The Purple Island by Phineas Fletcher (1633)
    • Biag ni Lam-ang by Pedro Bucaneg (1640)
    • Il Conquisto di Granata by Girolamo Graziani (1650)
    • Exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies by Anne Bradstreet (1650)
    • Szigeti veszedelem, also known under the Latin title Obsidionis Szigetianae, a Hungarian epic by Miklos Zrinyi (1651)
    • Davideis by Abraham Cowley (c. 1668)
    • Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667)
    • Paradise Regained by John Milton (1671)
    • Wojna chocimska by Wacław Potocki (1672)
    • Prince Arthur by Richard Blackmore (1695)
    • King Arthur by Richard Blackmore (1697)
  • 18th century:
    • Kumulipo by Keaulumoku (1700) an Ancient Hawaiian cosmogonic genealogy first published in (1889)
    • Eliza by Richard Blackmore (1705)
    • Columbus by Ubertino Carrara (1714)
    • Redemption by Richard Blackmore (1722)
    • Henriade by Voltaire (1723)
    • La Pucelle d'Orleans by Voltaire (1756)
    • Alfred by Richard Blackmore (1723)
    • Utendi wa Tambuka by Bwana Mwengo (1728)
    • Lima fundada, o La conquista del Peru by Pedro de Peralta y Barnuevo (1732)
    • Leonidas by Richard Glover (1737)
    • Epigoniad by William Wilkie (1757)
    • The Highlander; by James Macpherson (1758)
    • The Works of Ossian by James MacPherson (1765)
    • O Uraguai by Basilio da Gama (1769)
    • Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire by Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill (1773)
    • Der Messias by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1773)
    • Rossiada by Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov (1771-1779)
    • Caramuru by Santa Rita Durao (1781)
    • Vladimir Reborn by Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov (1785)
    • The Conquest of Canaan by Timothy Dwight IV (1785)
    • The Anarchiad by David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, and Lemuel Hopkins (1786-87)
    • Athenaid by Richard Glover (1787)
    • Joan of Arc by Robert Southey (1796)
    • Hermann and Dorothea by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1797)
    • Achilleid by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1797-1799)
  • 19th century:
    • The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du (1800?)
    • Thalaba the Destroyer by Robert Southey (1801)
    • The Lay of the Last Minstrel by Walter Scott (1805)
    • Madoc by Robert Southey (1805)
    • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (part 1 1806, part 2 c. 1833)
    • The Columbiad by Joel Barlow (1807)
    • Milton: a Poem by William Blake (1804-1810)
    • Marmion by Walter Scott (1808)
    • The Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott (1810)
    • The Vision of Don Roderick by Walter Scott (1811)
    • The Curse of Kehama by Robert Southey (1810)
    • Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Lord Byron, narrating the travels of Childe Harold (1812-1818)
    • Rokeby and The Bridal of Triermain by Walter Scott (1813)
    • Queen Mab by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)
    • Roderick the Last of the Goths by Robert Southey (1814)
    • The Lord of the Isles by Walter Scott (1813)
    • Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1815)
    • The Revolt of Islam (Laon and Cyntha) by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1817)
    • Harold the Dauntless by Walter Scott (1817)
    • Endymion, (1818) by John Keats
    • The Battle of Marathon by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1820)
    • Hyperion, (1818), and The Fall of Hyperion, (1819) by John Keats
    • L'Orleanide, Poeme national en vingt-huit chants, by Philippe-Alexandre Le Brun de Charmettes (1821)
    • Phra Aphai Mani by Sunthorn Phu (1821 or 1823-1845)
    • Don Juan by Lord Byron (1824), an example of a "mock" epic in that it parodies the epic style of the author's predecessors
    • Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe (1827)
    • Creation, Man and the Messiah by Henrik Wergeland (1829)
    • Prometheus Bound by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1833)
    • Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz (1834)
    • Baptism on the Savica (Krst pri Savici) by France Preseren (1836)
    • The Seraphim by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1838)
    • King Alfred by John Fitchett (completed by Robert Roscoe and published in 1841-1842)
    • Janos Vitez by Sandor Petofi (1845)
    • Smrt Smail-age Cengica by Ivan Mazuranic (1846)
    • Toldi (1846), Toldi szerelme ("Toldi's Love", 1879) and Toldi esteje ("Toldi's Night", 1848) by Janos Arany, forming the so-called "Toldi trilogy"
    • Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1847)
    • The Mountain Wreath by Petar II Petrovic-Njegos (1847)
    • Lazarica or Battle of Kosovo by Joksim Novic-Otocanin (1847)
    • The Tales of Ensign Stal by Johan Ludvig Runeberg (first part published in 1848, second part published in 1860)
    • Kalevala by Elias Lonnrot (1849 Finnish mythology)
    • I-Juca-Pirama by Goncalves Dias (1851)
    • Kalevipoeg by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1853 Estonian mythology)
    • The Prelude by William Wordsworth
    • Song of Myself by Walt Whitman (1855)
    • The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1855)
    • "Aurora Leigh" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1857)
    • Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1860)
    • Terje Vigen by Henrik Ibsen (1862)
    • La Fin de Satan by Victor Hugo (written between 1855 and 1860, published in 1886)
    • La Legende des Siecles (The Legend of the Centuries) by Victor Hugo (1859-1877)
    • The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning (1868-69)
    • Ibonia, oral epic of Madagascar (first transcription: 1870)
    • Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez (1872)
    • Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson (c. 1874)
    • Clarel by Herman Melville (1876)
    • The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs by William Morris (1876)
    • L'Atlantida by Jacint Verdaguer (1877)
    • The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson (B.V.) (finished in 1874, published in 1880)
    • Tristram of Lyonesse by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1882)
    • O Guesa by Sousandrade (composed 1858-1884)
    • Eros and Psyche by Robert Bridges (1885)
    • Canigo by Jacint Verdaguer (1886)
    • Lacplesis ('The Bear-Slayer') by Andrejs Pumpurs (1888; Latvian Mythology)
    • Tabare by Juan Zorrilla de San Martin (1888; national epic of Uruguay)
    • The Wanderings of Oisin by William Butler Yeats (1889)
    • Luc Van Tien by Nguyen Đinh Chieu
  • 20th century:
    • Lahuta e Malcis by Gjergj Fishta (composed 1902-1937)
    • Ural-batyr (Bashkirs oral tradition set in the written form by Mukhamedsha Burangulov in 1910)
    • Drake: An English Epic (1905-1908), The Torch-Bearers (1917-1930) by Alfred Noyes
    • The Ballad of the White Horse by G. K. Chesterton (1911)
    • Mensagem by Fernando Pessoa (composed 1913-1934)
    • The Cantos by Ezra Pound (composed 1915-1969)
    • The Hashish-Eater; Or, The Apocalypse of Evil by Clark Ashton Smith (1920)
    • Dorvyzhy, Udmurt national epic compiled in Russian by Mikhail Khudiakov (1920) basing on folklore works
    • A Cycle of the West by John Neihardt (composed 1921-1949)
    • The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis (Greek verse, composed 1924-1938)
    • Dymer by C. S. Lewis (1926)
    • John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benet (1928)
    • A by Louis Zukofsky (composed 1928-1968)
    • The Bridge by Hart Crane (1930)
    • Kamayani by Jaishankar Prasad (1936)
    • Canto General by Pablo Neruda (1938-1950)
    • Paterson by William Carlos Williams (composed c.1940-1961)
    • Sugata Saurabha by Chittadhar Hridaya (1941-1945)
    • Victory for the Slain by Hugh John Lofting (1942)
    • Kurukshetra (1946), Rashmirathi (1952), Urvashi (1961), Hunkar by Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'
    • Savitri by Aurobindo Ghose (1950)
    • The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson (composed 1950-1970)
    • The Anathemata by David Jones (1952)
    • Libretto for the Republic of Liberia by Melvin B. Tolson (1953)
    • Aniara by Harry Martinson (composed 1956)
    • Celebration of the Lizard by The Doors (composed 1965-1968)
    • Song of Lawino by Okot p'Bitek (1966)
    • Helen in Egypt by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1974)
    • The Banner of Joan by H. Warren Munn (1975)
    • Kristubhagavatam by P. C. Devassia (1976)
    • The Changing Light at Sandover by James Merrill (composed 1976-1982)
    • The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford (published 1977)
    • Emperor Shaka the Great by Mazisi Kunene (1979)
    • The Legend of Te Tuna by Richard Adams (published 1982)
    • Empire of Dreams by Giannina Braschi (1988 in Spanish; 1994 in English).
    • Omeros by Derek Walcott (1990)
    • The Levant by Mircea Cartarescu (1990)
    • Arundhati by Jagadguru Rambhadracharya (1994)
    • Mastorava by A. M. Sharonov (1994)
    • Astronautilia Hvezdoplavba by Jan Kresadlo (1995)
    • The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley (1996)
    • Cheikh Anta Diop: Poem for the Living by Mwatabu S. Okantah (1997)
    • The Folding Cliffs by W.S. Merwin (1998)
    • Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse by Les Murray (1998)
    • The Adagios Quartet by Judith Fitzgerald (1999-2009)
    • The Dream of Norumbega: Epic on the U.S. by James Wm. Chichetto (c. 1990; p. 2000- )
  • 21st Century:
    • Cerulean Odyssey: Journey of a Long Distance Voyager. by Gerrit Verstraete (c. 2004-2012, 10 Volumes - the longest epic written in Canadian literary history, comprising 148,518 words and 27,548 lines)
    • Sribhargavaraghaviyam (2002), Ashtavakra (2009) and Gitaramayanam (2009-2010, published in 2011) by Jagadguru Rambhadracharya
    • Thaliad by Marly Youmans (published 2012)
    • Sveta poroka by Vlado zabot (2012)
    • Vicissitudes by James Michael Magill (published 2014)

Other epics

  • Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner (opera, composed 1848-1874)
  • Parsifal by Richard Wagner (opera, composed 1880-1882)
  • Gesta Berengarii imperatoris
  • Epic of Koroğlu, Turkic oral tradition written down mostly in 18th century
  • Yadegar-e Zariran (Middle Persian)
  • Siribhoovalaya, a unique work of multi-lingual literature written by Kumudendu Muni, a Jain monk
  • Hinilawod, a Panay epic.
  • Koti and Chennayya and Epic of Siri, Tulu poems
  • Ramakien, Thailand's national epic derived from the Ramayana
  • Khun Chang Khun Phaen, a Thai poem
  • Epic of Jangar, poem of the Oirat people
  • Epic of Darkness, tales and legends of primeval China
  • Kutune Shirka, sacred yukar epic of the Ainu people of which several translations exist
  • Epic of Bamana Segu, oral epic of the Bambara people, composed in the 19th century and recorded in the 20th century



Who We Are

The goal of this website is to offer a general overview of epic poetry as a genre. You will also find links to more specialized literary topics and to individual essential works for students of English literature such the Iliad, the Odyssey and others.

Back to top
 ©  2014 Epic Poetry. All Rights Reserved.