How can the Iliad be described as an epic?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An epic poem has several characteristics. First, epics tend to be long, and tell stories involving important events in the past. The Iliad fulfills this requirement as it is long (with some modern translations approaching 700 pages) and dramatizes the events surrounding the Trojan War, an apparently major, if highly mythologized conflict between polities in Greece and in Asia Minor. Second, epics emphasize heroic acts of their characters, and much of the Iliad is spent describing the deeds, especially in battle, of such heroes as Achilles, Hector, Ajax, and others. The Iliad also, like other epics, includes characters that appear elsewhere in the ancient Greek folk tradition. Other characteristics of the Iliad that are shared by many other (but not all) epics are that it opens in medias res, that it includes long speeches by its major characters, and that it involves important questions about the relationship between the divine and man. The Iliad also shares the distinction of having originally been sung orally, without having been written down. This was also true of the Odyssey (also, of course by Homer) and other, non-Greek epics, including Gilgamesh and Beowulf