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Long, narrative poem in an elevated style that celebrates heroic achievement and treats themes of historical, national, religious, or legendary significance. Primary (or traditional) epics are shaped from the legends and traditions of a heroic age and are part of oral tradition; secondary (or literary) epics are written down from the beginning, and their poets adapt aspects of traditional epics. The poems of Homer are usually regarded as the first important epics and the main source of epic conventions in western Europe. These conventions include the centrality of a hero, sometimes semidivine; an extensive, perhaps cosmic, setting; heroic battle; extended journeying; and the involvement of supernatural beings.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on epic, visit Britannica.com.