What are the similarities and differences between epic tales and myths?   

Epics are longer and more complex than myths, and they tend to be shaped (or, in the case of literary epics, completely written) by an individual. Myths often have the aim of explaining a single fact, such as how the sun travels across the sky, whereas epics generally have a wider purpose, such to describe the founding of an empire or a religion.

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Myths and epics are similar in that they tend to reflect the values of the culture in which they originated. Epics are especially apt at this, with their central heroes encapsulating traits that are considered heroic to a culture. Think of the difference between the Christian ideals valorized in Paradise Lost and the Anglo-Saxon warrior code valued in Beowulf.

Mythology can perform this function as well, though some argue that mythology is more multi-faceted. Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell felt that mythology's highest function was to provide a blueprint for individuals seeking to live an authentic life, as in this excerpt from an interview with Bill Moyers:

But what the myth has to provide, I mean, just on this immediate level of life instruction, the pedagogical aspect of myth, it has to give life models. And the models have to be appropriate to the possibilities of the time in which you’re living.

Like an epic, this links a myth to a particular time and place even as it contains a more universal value. Take the story of Persephone and Hades: it does more than offer an explanation for the seasons in that it traces the human journey from innocence to adulthood through the abduction of Persephone, who starts the story as an innocent girl and ends it as a queen who can move between two worlds.

Obvious differences between myth and epics are the lengths of each. Myths tend to be brief, even episodic. The characterizations within them are not elaborate, relying instead on archetypes to make their point. Epics tend to have more fleshed-out characters that the audience follows over an extended period of time. Compare Pierre in Tolstoy's War and Peace with Persephone in her mythical descent to the underworld. Both characters move from innocence to wisdom, but only Pierre emerges as a full character with specific traits and desires over the course of the Napoleonic wars, while the audience never knows much of Persephone beyond what happens to her.

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There are two main types of epic, generally called primary and secondary, or sometimes authentic and literary. The first type, primary or authentic epic, is a poem like the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, or Beowulf. The origins of these poems are shrouded in mystery, and no one knows who wrote them or whether they originated in a long oral tradition. Secondary or literary epics are works like the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost. These are clearly products of individual talent. Their authors are famous poets about whom a fair amount of biographical information is known. The poems themselves are highly referential works of literature, often alluding to other epics and to history.

It is clear that the first type of epic described here is much closer to myth than the second and shares some of its characteristics. In particular, both authentic epic and myth have mysterious origins and cannot be attributed to a single author. The myths, however, are much shorter and often appear as episodes within the epics. The Odyssey, in particular, is a treasury of Greek myths, as is the Theogony of Hesiod. A myth often has the specific purpose of explaining something, such as why the seasons change or how the sun travels through the sky. While epics can have explanatory purposes as well, these tend to be much larger in scope, such as providing the founding ideals and stories for an empire or even a religion.

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Epics and myths are both forms that were created long ago and were mostly passed down orally for centuries. However, there are several differences between these two revered literary genres.

By definition, an epic is a long, narrative poem (it tells a story). An epic features an epic hero who is a larger-than-life figure (though he is not divine or immortal in most cases). Good and evil are strictly defined in most epics. The epic generally tells the story of a hero's victories over a villain.

Myths tackle a wider range of topics, including origin stories and the exploits of gods and goddesses. Myths tend to be shorter, anecdotal stories rather than long narratives. In myths, writers often use archetypes and characters are typically static. Rather than telling the story of one hero's quest, myths can tell the stories of how natural phenomena came to be or how gods and goddesses interact and vie for power.

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The terms epic tale and myths are certainly sometimes confused because they share similarities. However, each have distinctive characteristics that can help you to identify them. 

Myths and epic tales, for example, both have larger than life characters. Additionally, they both tell a story rather than simply explaining a cultural trait, like religion, for example. Myths and epic tales also tend to have been passed down for many years, developing through the oral tradition. 

However, they each have certain defining characteristics that allow one to identify them as either a myth or an epic tale. Though myths have a larger than life character, they do more than tell a story about him. A myth will explain a natural event, religious practice or cultural element. The epic tale revolves around the single, heroic character and tells the story of his adventures or life through several episodes or story parts. If it tells the story of an entire culture, it does so through the eyes and actions of the heroic character over the course of many years of his life. 

It can be difficult to discern the difference between these two genre and you may sometimes find that you disagree with how a publisher has labeled a particular text due to the characteristics these two genre share. 

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Epic tales and myths were common features of society in the ancient world and persist in some form or other even today. Both generally deal with larger-than-life characters: kings, queens, heroes and warriors, major events such as wars and disasters, supernatural events, and great stories of love, passion and revenge and so on. Myths however concentrate more on gods and goddesses and other figures generally removed from the earthly realm whereas epic tales also include figures that are at least partly grounded in historical reality. Epic tales are long narratives whereas some mythic tales might be quite short.

 In the ancient world, epic tales such as the Iliad in Greece and The Epic of Gilgamesh in Mesopatamia are equally about legendary leaders and warriors as well as about gods and goddesses; the interaction betwen human and divine figures is all-important. 

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