An epic is a poetic composition in which a series of heroic achievements or events, usually involving a hero, is dealt with at length as a continuous narrative in elevated style.
(Subdivided into the Classical, Oral or Folk, Historical, Literary and even the Mock.)
Some (most) epics begin with an invocation to a god or to the Muse. There may be a statement of the subject and the author's purpose. The narrative itself begins in media res or in the middle of the story. The epic is a long work divided into sections.
The epic deals with an epic hero and his or her peers. Genealogies are usually given in order that the reader is aware of their background.
The narrative is based on legend and/or history.
1. Imagery is provided through extended epic similes.
2. Epic epithets are used to describe characters. These are often repeated and are used to fill in the line.
3. Warfare or single combat is central.
4. Epic catalogue or lists.
5. There is epic realism in gory details of battle and detailed description of things such as weapons, armour, etc...
6. Often a journey is involved.
7. There is usually an epic weapon (Beowulf's sword for example)
8. Understatement is used.
9. Supernatural characters are used, probably because fo the conspicuous part played by the gods in the epics of Homer and Virgil.
10. Often the gods interfere with the action on behalf of their favourites.
11. Epics are vast in scope.
12. The epic hero is successful; a successful outcome is never in doubt.
13. Much of the narrative is given in long speeches by the characters. Since war is involved many of these speeches contain taunts, boasts, retorts, and challenges. Since the epic covers a short period of time, earlier events may be revealed this way. Also the long speeches serve to reveal characters. These are refered to as set speeches.
14. Low caste characters are rarely named.
15. The early epic tradition is generally oral.
16. Elevated language is used.