An epic has been generally described as a long narrative poem, on a grand scale, about the deeds of warriors and heroes, kings and Gods. It is majestic both in theme and style. “The Iliad” is an epic poem by the ancient Greek poet Homer, which recounts some of the significant events of the final weeks of the Trojan War and the Greek siege of the city of Troy.
Epic poetry is two types: primary and secondary epic. A primary epic begins in medias res. In The Iliad, for example, the story begins after the war between the combined forces of Greece and the forces of the walled city of Troy and their allies has been in progress for nearly ten years.
Like other primary epics, The Iliad also begins with an invocation to a god or gods. The poet, who in those days would have been reciting the epic to an audience, say, at a banquet, began by calling for a blessing--for a god or gods to attend this effort of his. In the case of the beginning of The Iliad, the poet says something like:
"Sing, goddess of epic poetry, the story of the anger of Achilles."
In a primary epic the theme is usually stated at the beginning of the epic, because these poems are so long and so complex, although the basic stories would have been familiar to the audiences. The theme of The Iliad is the wrath of Achilles, which is stated at the beginning of the poem.
A primary epic usually has many epithets. These epithets are re-naming of the characters, gods or things by stock phrases. An example is the re-naming of Agamemnon and Menelaus as "Atreus' two sons" or "the twin eagles." It is important for us to notice these epithets because they add description.
In a primary epic, there are catalogues of things and characters; there are many lists, both long and short. In one book of The Iliad, for example, there is a list of the ships that sailed from Greece to Troy.
There are long and formal speeches by many characters. You will not have any trouble spotting these. Sometimes they happen in the heat of battle and other seemingly inappropriate times, but more often they occur at various kinds of meetings, as in an assembly of the chieftains.
In a primary epic, Gods intervene in the affairs of human beings in these stories. For example, in Book I of The Iliad, Achilles, getting very angry at Agamemnon, starts to pull out his dagger to kill him. Suddenly, a goddess rushes to the side of Achilles to warn him not to be so hasty.
The setting of an epic is vast. The setting of The Iliad is also vast encompassing both the Greek and Trojan islands.
Epics use the epic simile. An epic simile is a long comparison of two things. They make vivid an image and describe. An example can be found in the long comparison of Paris Alexander, a Trojan prince, to a fine horse that has been manger fed a long time in a stable. When released to pasture, it races out with quick, sure strides, neck arched, knees high, mane flowing, proud it its beauty and strength , to race to drink from a clear flowing stream. So Paris ran to battle.
The heroes embody the values of their civilization. The physical strength and stamina of Achilles, for example, is made much of. The lifting of the latch of the door of his stockade requires the strength of three soldiers, but Achilles lifts it with one hand. His spear, thrown so lightly, is eighteen feet long. He is a power machine.
Thus, we see that as an epic The Iliad fulfills almost all the requirements of a primary epic.