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Why might epics be similar across cultures?

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Quick Answer

Epics are similar across cultures because they are long narrative poems with a number of literary features in common. Typically, epics depict honorable heroes, vast settings, lofty subject matter, formulaic language and lists or catalogs of people, places and things.

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Epics have their origin as oral poetry that poets would narrate to live audiences. Early examples of epics include the "Epic of Gilgamesh" from ancient Mesopotamia, the Hindu "Ramayana," "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" by the Greek poet Homer, "The Aeneid" by Virgil, the Old English epic "Beowulf" and "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri of Italy. Other epic poems include "Paradise Lost" by John Milton and "Faust" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Epics often begin in the midst of action or at a tragic moment. They then use flashbacks to give the background of the tale. They often they include gods intervening into human lives and journeys to horrific places, such as the underworld.

Although the term epic is primarily used in reference to long poetry, it is also sometimes used to refer to other art forms with heroic themes, such as novels, films, theater productions, music and video games. For instance, "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy and "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien are considered to be epic novels. "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen is an example of an epic song.

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