In order to be considered an epic, there are certain qualifications and standards that a piece of literature must meet. The themes and motifs incorporated in these stories are universal and the plot lines are both historical and entertaining. These epics are long poems that were originally expressed orally and later transcended into written works. The Old Testament, The Illiad, and The Odyssey are all classical works of literature that are considered epics today.
The Old Testament is considered an epic because of its contribution as a religious work of literature. The collection of stories in The Old Testament have served as the basis for many religions in many different cultures. They each contain heroes and villains and encompass tales of adventure and fantasy. Unlike the Greeks, this Hebrew epic is monotheistic in content and belief. To fulfill yet another quality of an epic, intervention by God does frequently occur.
While the Hebrews were responsible for the production of The Old Testament, the Greeks employed the works of Homer. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are the most famous of the Greek epics. These epic poems tell the story of the Trojan War and the events and famous people surrounding the war. Throughout the Iliad, the universality of the poem is evident as concepts of war and man vs. man conflicts are expressed through the lives of Achilles, Hector, and Patroclus. Another epic quality in the Iliad is the invocation of the muse in the beginning of the story. This use of the muse is one of the specific characteristics of an epic poem. The muse is called upon to tell the story of Achilles and Hector. While the Hebrews acknowledged only one God, the Greeks hosted a polytheistic, anthropocentric society. There were many Gods and Goddesses of their society and each had human or animal characteristics. The intervention of these Gods into the lives of the characters in the Iliad and the Odyssey is another characteristic of epic poetry that is unique to Greek culture.
Homer’s second epic is the Odyssey. Much like the Iliad, this poem contains definite qualities in theme and structure that make the poem an epic. The most predominant characteristic is the presence of such an outstanding and straightforward central hero. Another epic quality which highlights Odysseus’ character is his extremely long and perilous journey. Incorporated into the Odyssey and the Iliad are also numerous Homeric epithets. These devices are classifications that certain characters obtain to help identify them. Also, the use of the epic simile contributes to the quality of the poems. Homer uses extremely long and developed comparisons to describe certain characters and events.