Epics are heroic poems characterized by long verse narratives centering around a quasi-divine figure upon whom the fate of a world rests. They usually have a very formal, high, elevated style. Epics are of two kinds – the literary ones, based on the scale of the narrative and the traditional ones, based on the historical context. In this article, we’re exploring some traditional epics from all over the world!

The Odyssey by Homer

10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe - The Odyssey by Homer
10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe – The Odyssey by Homer

This war epic draws heavily from Greek mythology to weave a humongous narrative of the Trojan war. We follow Odysseus, returning to his hometown Ithaka, after a magnanimous triumph in the Trojan war. On his journey, which is an allegory of life, he battles one eyed monsters, demons and Gods alike, while also reminiscing on the Trojan war and his triumph.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Traditional epics from all over the world - The Epic of Gilgamesh
Traditional epics from all over the world – The Epic of Gilgamesh

This anonymous epic is an accidental discovery – preserved on clay tablets dated centuries before other epics. With roots in the Mesopotamian civilization, we follow Gilgamesh’s escapades with the wild Enkidu. In their quest for immortality, they scourge the lands of Babylonia, weaving a romantic tale of adventure.

Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi

Shahnameh
10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe – Shahnameh

An epic story of fathers and sons, Ferdowsi’s pre-Islamic narrative is the national epic of Iran. Tracing the beginnings of the Persian empire and the various vicissitudes of the history of Persia, we follow a tragic family saga. At the heart of the narrative is Rustom, killed untimely by his son Sohrab.  

The Iliad by Homer

Traditional epics from all over the world - The Iliad
Traditional epics from all over the world – The Iliad

In this narrative combining the narratives of several warriors, their wives, generals, nationalists and more, we see the tragic conclusion of the Trojan war. With animated characters like Aeneid, Hercules, powerful women like Helen, Hera and Andromache, and Gods like Zeus, Apollo and Ares, this is a true epic.

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Paradise Lost
10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe – Paradise Lost

Milton’s epic poem traces the Biblical story of the fall of humanity due to temptation. We look at the banishment of Eve from the Garden of Eve due to her consumption of the forbidden fruit. Full of drama, intrigue and Biblical imagery, this epic straddles the three worlds of Earth, Heaven and Hell.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy
Traditional epics from all over the world – The Divine Comedy

This Italian epic is the story of Dante’s descent into hell with mentor Virgil, his exploration of the seven realms of hell and his experience in hell. Following this, we follow his meet with his dead lover and finally his arrival in heaven. Equal parts faith based and equal parts a crafty narrative, this is a must read.

Beowulf

10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe - Beowulf
10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe – Beowulf

This Anglo-Saxon epic based on the Scandinavian legend of a monster. Although this epic is a little dense to get through because of the now redundant language, it’s still a great read. Our protagonist is the warrior Beowulf, who defeats Demons and Dragons.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Traditional epics from all over the world - The Tale of Genji
Traditional epics from all over the world – The Tale of Genji

Tale of Genji is the Japanese epic and one of the best pieces of classical literature, describing the courtly life in Medieval Japan. At the centre of this epic is Genji, the Shining Prince, full of vivacity, passionate nature and ‘tempestuousness’. We follow his dalliances, political intrigues, and a life full of adventure.

Ramayana by Valmiki

10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe - Ramayana
10 Ancient Epics From Around The Globe – Ramayana

This Indian epic is the story of the seventh reincarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Born into the royal family of Ayodhya, we follow his feats as a young prince. Following this he is sent into exile by a manipulative stepmother. Here, the greatest rival to the Indian subcontinent abducts his wife. Ram fights with him to win her back and re-emerge as the rightful king of Ayodhya.

Mahabharata by Vyasa

Traditional epics from all over the world - Mahabharata
Traditional epics from all over the world – Mahabharata

The story of the Great War among two sets of rival cousins vying for the same throne of Hastinapur is woven with thousands of intricate narratives. With a host of characters, all subtly painted in shades of grey, this epic is tremendous in terms of scope, length and depth of philosophy. It also includes a foundational text of Hinduism, the Bhagwat Geeta.

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