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25 Hero’s Journey Story Ideas to Start an Epic Adventure

by Sue Weems | 0 comments

The hero's journey is one of the most beloved and popular story frameworks in books and film. Today we have 25 prompts with hero's journey story ideas, so you can write your own epic adventure tale!

epic hero narrative essay

If you've watched any one of George Lucas's Star Wars films, read or watched any of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings books or films then you've experienced the hero's journey. I've walked my creative writing classes through these stories numerous times, helping them identify and emulate the story principles. 

Part of what makes these stories so compelling is that they follow a character from their ordinary life into an adventure they couldn't have imagined, leading to personal transformation.

You can see David Stafford's (our resident expert on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey Story Structure) Ultimate Guide to the Hero's Journey here if you want to see a complete breakdown of the heroic journey that creates these character arcs. 

While there are twelve stages or phases in a traditional hero's journey story, I've organized these prompts in the three essential stages: the departure, the initiation, and the return. You can combine these into a story or use them individually to fuel just one section of your larger story. 

Try one and see how it pushes your character out of their normal life and into a hero venture! 

Hero's Journey Story Ideas for the Departure

This opening stage is all about establishing a would-be hero's everyday life, revealing the status quo, and then disrupting it. What's expected of this character in their current state? What do they believe about themselves? 

The departure stage requires the hero to leave that mundane life, that familiar world behind to begin their adventure that will happen in a series of stages. The departure includes: the Ordinary World , the Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call , Meet the Mentor , and the Crossing of the Threshold .

1. Create a scene where your character is frustrated or in trouble at their current workplace or home. Avoid a wake-up scene unless you can make it compelling.

2. Show your character doing their favorite activity when it gets interrupted with something inconsequential.

3. Show your character interacting with a pesky sibling, challenging family member, or sometimes friend. 

4. What problem will arise in your character's community that will necessitate them leaving home to solve it? 

5. Create a major threat to your character's favorite place or person , preferably one that could be extended to the entire community. 

6. Describe the insecurities that plague your character, focusing on ones that will inform their refusal of the call to adventure. 

7. Create a mentor (or two or three!) that will inspire your character to think beyond their current limitations and plant a seed of inspiration. What kind of person or being will best speak into your character's specific fears?

8. Write the scene where the character accepts the call and leaves home to begin the adventure. 

Hero's Journey Story Ideas for the Initiation Stage

The initiation stage includes Trials, Allies, and Enemies ; Approach to the Inmost Cave ; The Ordeal ; and The Reward .

This next part, the initiation, is usually the longest in a story, loosely from the inciting incident to the end of the climax (and immediate repercussions). This is a place to play—get creative with the trials, the complications, and the ultimate battle.

9. Make a list of your hero's strengths and weaknesses. Now, create a trial or an antagonist that can challenge each of those traits. 

10. Write a scene where your hero meets an unexpected ally on their journey . 

11. Create a fantastical challenge or physical obstacle in the world where your story is set. Drop your hero and one other character into the situation and force them to fight their way through it. 

12. Write a scene where the hero faces something they think will be easy, but it challenges them in an unexpected (and humbling way).

13. How will your character take on a new physical look during the initiation phase? How will their build, clothing, features change? Write the description , including an outline of how it happens. 

14. Create a creature who the hero will approach as a threat. What happens in the face-off? Will the creature remain foe? or become a friend?

15. The character archetype of the shadow (sometimes called the villain) appears during the approach to the inmost cave. The villain is the dark side of the hero. Write a scene where the hero misuses their power and prowess—then see if you can adapt it for the shadow OR use it to help the hero grow. 

16. Write a scene where the hero faces their toughest foe, the scene where they are not sure they can beat evil.

17. Consider how the fight has become even more personal for the hero. Write about what they believe they are fighting for now. Make sure the stakes are high.

Hero's Journey Story Ideas for the Return

Finally, the Return stage shows off how our hero has changed, how the internal transformation has now manifested as an external change as the hero fully embraces their new status and learning.

It includes the final stages of the journey structure: The Road Back , The Resurrection , and the Return with the Elixir . 

18. Write a scene (or a list!) where the hero recounts what they have lost on the journey. 

19. Write a scene where the hero has achieved what they hoped, but somehow it falls short of what they thought it would be to them.

20. Write out the worst thing that could happen on the hero's way back home. How will they face it?

21. Describe (or draw!) a map of the hero's way home. Will they return the same way or go a new direction? What have they learned? 

22. Write a scene where your hero makes a significant sacrifice to defeat evil, preferably on behalf of their community.

23. Write a scene where the hero encounters a setback on their way home, either physical or relational. Make sure they are using their newfound confidence to solve the problem. 

24. Make a list of possible “elixirs” or rewards your hero could bring back from their adventure. Think about what is broken or important to their community and what that physical object will mean to them. Choose one elixir and write the moment the hero presents it. 

25. Write a hero's celebration feast scene. 

Now you try! 

The hero's journey structure can push you as a writer to focus on character development in addition to its opportunities for action and world building. Try one of these prompts today in your writing time and see where it leads!

Choose one of the prompts above. Set your timer for fifteen minutes and write. When finished, post your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here , and I hope you'll share feedback and encouragement with a few other writers. Help those heroes shine! 

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Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website .

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Epic Hero: Definition and Activities

Epic hero definition.

Protagonists come in many varieties. Some are relatable and easy to identify with. Others are constantly struggling and easy to sympathize with. An archetypal protagonist is the "epic hero", a main character with impressive superhuman capabilities who completes awe-inspiring deeds such as taking on a battle with superhuman foes. It was the Greeks who first defined the protagonist known as an epic hero. These heroes of a tragedy must evoke in the audience a sense of heroism through legendary, awe-inspiring lore. An epic hero must be someone whose fortune is brought about by his own admired characteristics. Many of the famous epic poetry, such as The Odyssey and The Iliad, contain these larger-than-life heroes and their deeds. King Arthur, Beowulf, Siegfried, Gilgamesh, and Rama are all examples of epic heroes.

Characteristics of an Epic Hero Example

What are the Characteristics of an Epic Hero?

The seven traits of an epic hero.

All epic heroes or epic characters have the same epic hero qualities. According to the epic literary definitions, these characteristics are as follows:

  • Noble Birth: Usually a king, prince, demi-god, or god-like nobleman of some capacity.
  • Superhuman Abilities: The skilled warrior has the potential for greatness based on their attributes, e.g. cunning, bravery, humility, wisdom, virtue, making them seem to have superhuman abilities and superhuman strength.
  • Vast Traveler: Known for making travels to another world or going on a perilous journey to exotic locations by choice or chance, usually to battle against evil.
  • Unmatched Warrior: Typically has a reputation for being a larger than life figure, even prior to the beginning of the story.
  • Cultural Legend: Before an epic hero can be universally known, he must first be a legend in his culture.
  • Humility: The hero performs great deeds for their own sake rather than glory and they demonstrate humility. Heroes that boast, or exhibit hubris may be punished and humbled.
  • Battles Supernatural Creatures: The superhuman foes and obstacles he faces are usually supernatural beings, e.g. Grendel, Poseidon, or a cyclops.

Epic Hero Examples

Most epic heroes are larger-than-life, possess heroic qualities, and embody the values of their culture. Here are some examples of epic heroes:

  • Beowulf: The protagonist of the Old English epic poem "Beowulf." He is a warrior who fights against monsters and becomes a king.
  • Odysseus: The central figure of Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey." He is a Greek hero who faces many challenges on his journey home from the Trojan War and has all the traits of an epic hero.
  • Gilgamesh: The protagonist of the Mesopotamian epic poem "Epic of Gilgamesh." He is a powerful king who embarks on a quest for eternal life.
  • Achilles: From Homer's epic poem "The Iliad", the hero Achilles is known for his incredible strength and is considered the greatest warrior of his time.
  • Arjuna: From the Hindu epic "Mahabharata", he is a skilled archer and warrior who must face a moral dilemma before a great battle.
  • King Arthur: This legend was the king of Britain who appears in many medieval tales and romances. He is known for his bravery, his sense of justice, and his wise leadership.

These are just a few examples of epic heroes from different cultures and time periods.

Why Teach Students About Epic Heroes?

Epic heroes are often taught in literature and history classes for a variety of reasons. Here are a few possible reasons:

  • Cultural Significance: Epic heroes often come from ancient cultures and societies that are no longer in existence. Studying epic heroes allows us to gain insight into these cultures and the values they held dear.
  • Literary Analysis: Epic heroes are often the protagonists of epic poems or narratives, which are significant literary works in their own right. By studying epic heroes, we can learn about literary techniques such as metaphor, symbolism, and characterization.
  • Moral Lessons: Epic heroes often embody certain virtues such as courage, loyalty, and perseverance. By studying their stories, we can learn valuable moral lessons and apply them to our own lives.
  • Historical Context: Many epic heroes are based on real historical figures or events. Studying them can give us a better understanding of the historical context in which they lived.

Overall, the study of epic heroes can help us gain a deeper understanding of literature, history, and the human condition.

How to Teach Students About Epic Heroes

Introduce the concept of epic heroes.

Start by defining what an epic hero is and provide some epic hero examples from literature or mythology. Explain the traits of an epic hero that make a hero "epic," such as strength, courage, intelligence, and noble qualities.

Read and Analyze Epic Poems or Stories

Choose an epic poem or story such as Beowulf , The Iliad , or The Odyssey , and read it with your students. Encourage them to take notes and analyze the story as they read. Discuss the themes, characters, and plot of the epic, and how they relate to the hero's journey.

Analyze the Hero's Journey

The hero's journey is a common theme in epic literature. Discuss the stages of the hero's journey, such as the call to adventure, the initiation, the challenges faced, and the return home. Have students identify these stages in the epic story they read.

Compare and Contrast Epic Heroes

Have students compare and contrast different epic heroes from different stories. This can be done through group discussions, class debates, or individual essays. Encourage them to analyze the similarities and differences between the heroes and their journeys.

Create your Own Epic Hero

Ask students to create their own epic hero, complete with their own journey, challenges, and character traits. Have them present their hero to the class and explain why they chose certain qualities and characteristics.

Overall, teaching about epic heroes can be a fun and interactive way to engage students with literature and mythology. By analyzing epic poems and stories and creating their own heroes, students can develop critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the hero's journey. Check out our sample lesson below!

Example Epic Hero Lesson Plan

Overview of the lesson.

What is an epic hero and how do I know who they are? Teach students the literary device and ask them to think deeply about their attributes and how they affect the work as a whole.

Time: 45 Minutes

Grade Level: 8-12

Lesson Specific Essential Questions

  • What are the characteristics of someone who has an extensive reputation?
  • Can you distinguish an epic hero from a typical character in a work of literature?
  • What do we learn from the virtues of an epic hero?

Students will be able to define epic hero, list epic heroes from works of literature, film, or television, and take away the effects of an epic hero on plot.

What students should know and be able to do before starting this lesson: Students should be able to list heroes and villains from popular works of literature or movies and television.

Instructional Materials/Resources/Tools

  • Before: Epic Hero Activator Worksheet
  • During: Elements of an Epic Hero Template
  • Example/After: Odysseus Epic Hero
  • Access to Storyboard That

Instructional Tips/Strategies/Suggestions for Teacher

Be specific when asking students to create a storyboard that shows the qualities of an Epic Hero. Make sure that students include an explanation of each attribute as well as a quote that backs up their claim. If they are doing this as a project, having the students download their storyboards to a PowerPoint is a perfect way for them to present an explanation of each cell.

Lesson Details/Procedure

Lesson opening.

Activator: Students will be given Epic Hero Activator Worksheet and instructed to fill in the boxes to the best of their ability. If students cannot fill in Box 3 (List Epic Heroes) then tell them that they may leave it blank. After five minutes ask students to compare lists with someone sitting near them. Then ask each pair to say one hero or villain out loud and make a list on the board. Once that is complete, ask them why they know the lists on the board are heroes or villains? As a class, come up with definitions for each and a list of attributes they possess.

Epic Hero Activator Worksheet

During the Lesson

Teaching the term: Next, ask all students if anyone had prior knowledge and knew what an epic hero is or if anyone has a guess or list of this type of character. If they did, write down on the board what they give for an answer. If no one knows, begin to front-load the term. After giving students the definition, ask them to think of characters from movie, TV, and literature that they think would fall in this category and make a list. Repeat with a think, pair, share and make a list of characters and a list of attributes.

Lesson Closing

Defining the term: After students have come up with a list of attributes that they believe an epic hero possesses, go over definition and characteristics of a hero. Ask students to fill out and keep track of the attributes that make the protagonist of your work an epic hero by writing in the answers to Elements of an Epic Hero Template.

Characteristics of an Epic Hero Template Worksheet

Lesson Extension

After students have finished reading the novel/play, reinforce this lesson by asking them to complete their storyboard that shows each attribute using a scene and quote from the text. This lesson extension coupled with a slide show presentation will help students master the concept of the epic hero.

Herakles Epic Hero

Add a Presentation

Students can be assessed after their final storyboard project is completed and presented.

Related Activities

Check out these epic hero activities from our guides on Greek Mythology: The 12 Labors of Hercules , Divergent , and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky .

Greek Mythology: The 12 Labors of Hercules - Hercules as an Epic Hero

How to Identify Archetypal Patterns in Epic Hero Stories

Understand archetypal patterns.

Introduce the concept of archetypal patterns to students, explaining that they are recurring themes, symbols, or narrative structures that appear across different stories and cultures. Discuss the significance of archetypes in understanding the deeper meanings and universal elements of epic hero stories.

Study Epic Hero Characteristics

Teach students about the characteristics of an epic hero, such as extraordinary abilities, noble qualities, and a transformative journey. Help them recognize these key traits that define an epic hero and differentiate them from other types of heroes.

Identify Hero's Call to Adventure

Guide students to identify the hero's call to adventure, which marks the beginning of the epic hero's journey. Help them recognize the moment when the hero is summoned or motivated to embark on a quest or undertake a significant task.

Analyze Mentorship and Supernatural Aid

Explore the presence of mentorship and supernatural aid in epic hero stories. Help students identify the wise mentor figures who guide and assist the hero throughout their journey. Discuss the role of supernatural elements or assistance that aid the hero in overcoming challenges.

Examine Challenges and Ordeals

Guide students to examine the challenges and ordeals the epic hero faces on their journey. Help them recognize the trials, conflicts, and obstacles that the hero must overcome to achieve their goal or fulfill their quest. Discuss the significance of these challenges in the hero's growth and development.

Evaluate the Hero's Transformation and Return

Encourage students to evaluate the hero's transformation and return. Help them analyze how the hero undergoes personal growth, acquires new knowledge or skills, and returns to their community or ordinary life with a greater understanding or a boon to share. Discuss the impact of the hero's journey on their character and the world around them.

Frequently Asked Questions about Epic Heroes

What is an epic hero.

The epic hero meaning is a character in literature or mythology who is larger than life and possesses heroic qualities such as courage, strength, wisdom, and cunning. Epic heroes are often the central figures in an epic hero story or an epic poem, and are typically portrayed as being on a quest or journey to accomplish a great feat or to save their people.

What makes an epic hero a hero?

What makes an epic hero a hero is their ability to demonstrate extraordinary feats of bravery, wisdom, and strength in the face of great adversity. The epic hero archetype embodies the virtues of their culture, serve as role models for others, and often exhibit a strong sense of honor and self-sacrifice.

What are the 9 characteristics of an epic hero?

The nine epic hero characteristics are:

  • The epic hero at any heroic age is a leader in some way.
  • Oftentimes the epic hero is a demi-god or has a weapon that has godlike powers.
  • Epic heroes take on a test of courage, skill, and strength.
  • Willingness to take on challenges that no one else is willing to take on.
  • Epic heroes must prove themselves by taking on a foe or challenge that is greater than the hero.
  • Epic heroes show excellence, courage, and strength.
  • These heroes have a great deal of cultural abilities and qualities.
  • Engages in a final battle with the antagonist/supernatural creatures.
  • Epic heroes have a fatal flaw of some sort that show their humility and relatability.

What is the difference between a hero and an epic hero?

The difference between a hero and an epic hero is that epic heroes are larger-than-life figures who embody the virtues of their culture and serve as a symbol of that culture's ideals. While a hero may also possess admirable qualities, they are often more relatable and human than an epic hero, who is typically portrayed as almost godlike in their abilities and accomplishments.

What is an example of an epic hero?

Perhaps the most well known on the epic heroes list is Odysseus, the protagonist of Homer's epic poem, "The Odyssey." Odysseus is a noble and courageous warrior who embarks on a long and perilous journey home after fighting in the Trojan War. He faces many obstacles, including battles with mythical creatures and the wrath of the gods, but ultimately succeeds in returning to his homeland and reclaiming his throne. Odysseus embodies the qualities of bravery, cunning, and wisdom that are highly valued in ancient Greek culture, making him a classic example of an epic hero.

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The Challenges of Writing an Epic Hero’s Journey Narrative and How to Overcome Them

epic hero narrative essay

The hero’s journey narrative has been around since humans started telling each other stories, and with good reason. Hero’s journeys are attractive because they involve the most important aspect of any important story: change.

During a hero’s journey narrative, the protagonist goes through the process of succeeding in their goals , or their quest, because they change their way of thinking or their perspective.

This type of narrative also provides a strong structure for writers to keep their stories propelled through to the end. It gives 12 steps that a hero must follow, and a writer can plug events into the narrative to satisfy those requirements.

While they don’t write themselves, it can seem like you can write a hero’s journey tale without much difficulty.

However, there are still challenges to overcome when crafting such a narrative. If you are doing it for fun, or because you have to complete one for a class deadline , here are some of those challenges, and how you can overcome them.

Rigidly Sticking to the 12 Steps

It’s true that in most cases, a hero’s journey requires them to go through 12 stages to achieve their mission.

During these 12 steps, the hero starts in their original world, gets pushed into an adventure, overcomes obstacles, meets friends and foes, and eventually succeeds and returns to their normal life has changed for the better.

Sometimes writers should remember that the 12 steps provide guideposts , but you don’t have to follow them too rigidly.

For example, at the end of your story, the 12 stages would suggest that the hero must return to their “normal” world and make it better because of the change of perspective or thinking that they’ve had.

However, you can mix this up by having heroes sacrifice themselves and never return home, but things are better for society or the world because of their achievements.

If you stick too closely to the 12 steps, you may end up getting stuck in the mud and unable to complete your story.

Stifled Creativity

One of the other issues with using a narrative structure like the hero’s journey is that you might find the stories stale and derivative. That is certainly a trap that many writers fall into, but they don’t have to.

The great thing about narrative structures is that they can be used with any genre and any type of protagonist. You can have a small child who goes on an “adventure” to the mall with his mom, or you can have a young girl who wants to be a starfighter.

You don’t have to stick to traditional genres that we commonly associate with “heroes,” such as fantasy. You can have a hero’s journey take place in space, within a country home, on an island, or anywhere else.

There doesn’t have to be a sword in sight. When you create your journey, just make sure that the protagonist meets all or most of the criteria, and you will have a true hero’s journey in the end.

Gender Bias

epic hero narrative essay

For centuries, there has been an inherent gender bias in hero narratives. In fact, in classic stores often the women were evil temptresses who only stood in the hero’s way.

Even now, many writers get hung up on heroes having to be male. There has been a bigger event in the past decade to highlight female heroes who follow their journey, which has helped to break that cycle.

If you are stuck on some story beats with a male protagonist, try switching your hero to a female, or a non-binary character, and see where it takes you. You might find that it releases you from some narrative traps that come along with having a male protagonist.

Because there is so much history, there are many cliches when it comes to male heroes, and writers can get caught up with them, which can make for a stale story.

Changing things up might provide the refresh that you need to move forward.

Figuring Out The Archetypes

There are several archetypal characters that typically appear in a hero’s journey tale. It can be very hard to figure out which of your characters falls into which category, or if a character you are creating is truly the archetype you mean them to be.

It’s important to do your research and find some examples to help you get the details straight.

Use a hero’s journey writing guide to help sort through the characteristics that make a hero’s journey archetypal character, and incorporate them into your characters.

Just like the protagonist in your story, you will have challenges to overcome when writing a hero’s journey narrative.

However, you can get over these bumps and create a great story by following these tips.

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The Epic Hero

In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.


The “epic hero” as grounded in the epic poetry of the iliad and odyssey, epic as genre, the hero in epic: achilles and odysseus in the iliad and odyssey, the narrating of the story of achilles in the iliad, the complementarity of the iliad and odyssey, the narrating of the story of odysseus in the odyssey.

  • The returning king reclaims his kingdom by becoming reintegrated with his society. The king, as king, is the embodiment of this society, of this “body politic”; thus the society, as re-embodied by the king, is correspondingly reintegrated.
  • The pilot lost at sea finally finds his bearings and reaches home. The pilot or kubernētēs (Latin gubernātor ) is the helmsman who directs the metaphorical ‘ship of state’ (the metaphor is latent in the word derived from Latin gubernātor , ‘government’). {79|80}
  • The seer or shaman returns home from his vision quest.
  • The soldier of fortune returns home from his adventures and proceeds to reclaim his wife, whose faithfulness in his absence determines his true identity.
  • The trickster retraces his misleading steps, returning all the way back home, back where he had started, and thus showing the correct steps for all to take.
  • The son goes off on a quest to find his father in order to find his own heroic identity.

The narrating of the story of Aeneas in the Aeneid of Virgil

Contrasts between homeric poetry and older forms of poetry, the shaping of the epic hero in cosmogonic and anthropogonic traditions, the hero as hēmitheos ‘demigod’, herakles as a model hēmitheos ‘demigod’, the hero as a model of mortality and immortalization, evidence for the worship of heroes, the cult hero, characteristics of the hērōs ‘hero’ as both cult hero and epic hero.

  • The hero is unseasonal.
  • The hero is extreme – positively (for example, “best” in whatever category) or negatively (the negative aspect can be a function of the hero’s unseasonality).
  • The hero is antagonistic toward the god who seems to be most like the hero; antagonism does not rule out an element of attraction (often a “fatal attraction”), which is played out in a variety of ways. The sacred space assigned the hero in hero cult could be coextensive with the sacred space assigned to the god who was considered the hero’s divine antagonist. [ 172 ] In other words, god-hero antagonism in myth – including the myths mediated by epic – corresponds to god-hero symbiosis in ritual.
  • He is made unseasonal by Hera.
  • His unseasonality makes it possible for him to perform his extraordinary Labors. He also commits some deeds that are morally questionable: for example, he destroys the city of Iole and kills her brothers in order to capture her as his bride – even though he is already married to Deianeira (Diodorus of Sicily 4.37.5). It is essential to keep in mind that whenever heroes commit deeds that violate moral codes, such deeds are not condoned by the heroic narrative. [ 175 ]
  • He is antagonistic with Hera throughout his lifespan, but he becomes reconciled with her through death: as we have seen, the hero becomes the virtual son of Hera by being {87|88} reborn from her. As the hero’s name makes clear, he owes his heroic identity to his kleos and, ultimately, to Hera. A parallel is the antagonism of Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, toward the hero Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid .

From non-Homeric Herakles to Homeric Achilles and beyond

  • He is unseasonal: in Iliad XXIV 540, Achilles is explicitly described as is pana(h)ōrios ‘the most unseasonal of them all’. [ 177 ] His unseasonality is a major cause of his grief, which makes him “a man of constant sorrow.”
  • He is extreme, mostly in a positive sense, since he is ‘best’ in many categories, and ‘best of the Achaeans’ in the Homeric Iliad ; occasionally, however, he is extreme in a negative sense, as in his moments of martial fury. [ 178 ] In war, the warrior who is possessed by the god of war experiences this kind of fury, which is typically bestial. For example, martial fury in Greek is lussa , meaning ‘wolfish rage’. [ 179 ] Comparable is the Old Norse concept berserkr and the Old Irish concept of ríastrad ‘warp spasm’ or ‘distortion’. [ 180 ]
  • He is antagonistic to the god Apollo, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance. When Patroklos stands in for Achilles, he displaces Achilles as his ritual substitute in the god-hero antagonism of Apollo / Achilles. At the moment when Patroklos dies, in Iliad XVI 786, he is called ‘equal to a daimōn ’ – a sign of his status as ritual substitute. [ 181 ] The use of the word daimōn here, designating an unspecified superhuman force, signals the epic moment of god-hero antagonism. But we see here simultaneously a ritual moment as well, and this simultaneity indicates a convergence between the epic hero and cult hero.


How to Write a Descriptive Essay on an Epic Hero

Heroes are called such for a reason.

Many essay topics are dry and altogether boring, which forces the student to write an informative and professional essay while trying to make a mundane subject engaging. Epic heroes, however, have been capturing readers’ imaginations for centuries, and writing an essay on one is a thought-provoking and enlightening experience.

Explore this article

  • Clean Prose

Before you begin writing, plot out and outline your essay. Each epic hero is complex and layered, and it’s important that you’re aware of which aspects of the hero’s character, actions and legacy you’ll be responding to in your descriptive essay. For example, if your essay’s focus is Achilles, you’ll need a position regarding his character and how you feel about his merciless and blood-thirsty mentality.

2 Clean Prose

A main objective of the descriptive essay is providing your reader with intimate insight into how you feel about a particular experience. Your reader isn’t going to understand your interpretation of a specific epic hero if your prose is jumbled, convoluted or crowded. Write each sentence with care, and use the revision process as an opportunity to clarify any potentially inaccessible thoughts or ideas.

Use your senses to explain your thoughts and feelings. For example, if your experience reading about Achilles was dominated mostly by terror and uneasiness due to his lethal and dangerous nature, and your stomach felt like you’d just eaten a rotten dinner, explain such to your reader. There are few things clearer than certain smells, tastes and feelings.

Unlike other thesis-driven essays dominated by carefully chosen external sources that justify your claims, the descriptive essay’s focus is your unique interpretation of something. There is nothing wrong with including your honest thoughts about your epic hero. Include your feelings and opinions on specific actions your epic hero executes. If you disagree with Achilles' need to kill in order to create a legacy, let your reader know.

  • 1 Purdue University: Descriptive Essays
  • 2 Goucher College: Epic Traditions: The Hero -- Homer to Virgil

About the Author

Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.

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Definition of Epic

An epic is a long narrative poem that is elevated and dignified in theme , tone , and style . As a literary device, an epic celebrates heroic deeds and historically (or even cosmically) important events. An epic usually focuses on the adventures of a hero who has qualities that are superhuman or divine, and on whose very fate often depends on the destiny of a tribe, nation, or sometimes the whole of the human race. The Iliad , the Odyssey , and the Aeneid are considered the most important epics in western world literature, although this literary device has been utilized across regions and cultures.

Epic comes from the ancient Greek term  epos , meaning story , word, poem. The  Epic of Gilgamesh is considered by many scholars to be the oldest surviving example of a work of literature. This epic, traced back to ancient Mesopotamia in approximately 2100 BC, relays the story of Gilgamesh, an ancient king descended from the gods. Gilgamesh undergoes a journey to discover the secret of immortality.

Characteristics of an Epic

Though the epic is not a frequently used literary device today, its lasting influence on poetry is unmistakable. Traditionally, epic poetry shares certain characteristics that identify it as both a literary device and poetic form. Here are some typical characteristics of an epic:

  • written in formal, elevated, dignified style
  • third-person narration with an omniscient narrator
  • begins with an invocation to a muse who provides inspiration and guides the poet
  • includes a journey that crosses a variety of large settings and terrains
  • takes place across long time spans and/or in an era beyond the range of living memory
  • features a central hero who is incredibly brave and resolute
  • includes obstacles and/or circumstances that are supernatural or otherworldly so as to create almost impossible odds against the hero
  • reflects concern as to the future of a civilization or culture

Famous Examples of Literary Epics

Epic poems can be traced back to some of the earliest civilizations in human history, in Europe and Asia, and are therefore some of the earliest works of literature as well. Literary epics reflect heroic deeds and events that reveal significance to the culture of the poet. In addition, epic poetry allowed ancient writers to relay stories of great adventures and heroic actions. The effect of epics was to commemorate the struggles and adventures of the hero to elevate their status and inspire the audience .

Here are some famous examples of literary epics:

  • The Iliad  and  The Odyssey : epic poems attributed to Homer between 850 and 650 BC. These poems describe the events of the Trojan War and King Odysseus’s return journey from Troy and were initially conveyed in the oral tradition.
  • The  Mahābhārata: an epic poem from ancient India composed in Sanskrit.
  • The Aeneid : epic poem composed in Latin by Virgil, a Roman poet, between 29 and 19 BC. This is a narrative poem that relates the story of Aeneas, a Trojan descendent and forebear to the Romans.
  • Beowulf : an epic poem was written in Old English between 975 and 1025 AD. It is not attributed to an author, but is known for the conflict between Beowulf , a Scandinavian hero, and the monster Grendel.
  • The  Nibelungenlied: the epic narrative poem was written in Middle High German, c. 1200 AD. Its subject is Siegfried, a legendary hero in German mythology.
  • The Divine Comedy : epic poem by Dante Alighieri and was completed in 1320. Its subject is a detailed account of Dante as a character traveling through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
  • The Faerie Queene : an epic poem by Edmund Spenser published in 1590 and given to Elizabeth I. This poem features an invocation of the muse and is the work in which Spenser invented the verse form later known as the Spenserian stanza .
  • Paradise Lost : written by John Milton in blank verse form and published in 1667. Its subject is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as well as the fallen angel Satan.

Difference Between Epic and Ballad

Both epic and ballad works date back to ancient history and were passed down from one generation to another through oral poetry. However, these literary devices feature significant differences. An epic is an extended narrative poem composed with elevated and dignified language that celebrates the acts of a legendary or traditional hero. A ballad is also a narrative poem that is adapted for people to sing or recite and intended to convey sentimental or romantic themes in short stanzas, usually quatrains with repeating rhyme scheme . Ballads typically feature common, colloquial language to represent day-to-day life, and they are designed to have universal appeal to humanity as a group. Epic works, however, focus on a certain culture, race, nation, or religious group whose victory or failure determines the fate of an entirety of a nation or larger group but not all of humanity.

Characters in Epic Poetry

An epic poem can have several characters but the main character is always a historical figure or a legendary hero. Such heroes are of noble birth, having superhuman capabilities, with supernatural elements to help them out in difficult situations. He could be an unparalleled warrior, demonstrating superhuman capabilities before superhuman foes. Other characters could be all and sundry, animals , gods and goddesses, and some other superhumans but not equal to the legendary hero. Its classical examples are Odyssey and Illiad . Paradise Lost is the best example of an epic in English Literature.

Features of Main Character in Epic Poetry

The main traits of the central character of an epic are as follows.

  • The hero is of a noble birth such as Odysseus.
  • He could have superhuman capabilities.
  • He is a good traveler and travels to foreign lands.
  • He is a matchless warrior and could fight supernatural beings.
  • He is a cultural legend and people sing in his praise.
  • He is a humble, sympathetic and compassionate fellow.
  • He surmounts all obstacles including supernatural foes.

Structure of Epic Poetry

There are several important points in the structure of an epic poem.

  • The first line states the theme of the poem such as in Paradise Lost .
  • The poem invokes a Muse that has inspired and instructed the poet to write the poem.
  • The poem opens from the middle or In Medias Res  and then states the main events.
  • The poem includes lists or catalogs of characters, armies, or ships.
  • The poem includes long speeches of the main warriors.
  • The poem has extended metaphors and extended similes written in iambic pentameter .

Use of Supernatural Characters in Epic Poems

Epic poems often comprise supernatural characters. Some have gods and goddesses such as in Gilgamesh and Odyssey . They help heroes in difficult times. Some have demons and monsters with whom heroes battle and win. Some epics have other supernatural elements with whom the heroes come into contact and win such as Cyclops in Odyssey. Some have mythical creatures such as Eris, Thetis, Enkidu, and Shamas in Gilgamesh.

Origin of Epic Poetry

Gilgamesh is perhaps the earliest known epic that has survived the ravages of time. It is a Sumerian poem of King Gilgamesh and has been traced back to 3,000 BC. It is stated to have the records of King Gilgamesh. Following that, Mahabharta , the ancient Indian epic, was written in 300BC and comprises more than 200,000 verses, the longest epic. Odyssey, Illiad, Paradise Lost, Ramayana, and Shahnameh are some other popular epics of different regions.

Examples of Epics in Literature

Modern readers may consider any lengthy tale of an ancient hero who embarks on a significant journey to be an epic work. However, though this type of heroic story is common in various forms of literature, prose narratives aren’t considered part of the realm of the epic tradition. It’s rare for modern poets to choose epic as a literary device; however, epic poetry remains one of the most influential forms of literature.

Here are some examples of epic poems in literature:

Example 1:  Inferno (first canticle of  The Divine Comedy  by Dante Alighieri)

i am the way into the city of woe, I am the way into eternal pain, I am the way to go among the lost. Justice caused my high architect to move, Divine omnipotence created me, The highest wisdom, and the primal love. Before me there were no created things But those that last forever—as do I. Abandon all hope you who enter here.

This passage is from the first canticle of Dante’s  Divine Comedy ,  Inferno , in which the character Dante makes a journey through Hell guided by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil. As Dante approaches the Gate of Hell, he finds these lines inscribed. The poetic lines represent the “ voice ” of Hell in telling Dante and the reader of Hell’s nature, origin, and purpose. This indicates the pathway of what is to come for Dante on his journey through the epic poem. The inscription describes Hell as a city, structured as a contained geographical area bound by walls and harboring a population of souls suffering various levels and means of torment. This is a parallel for the canticle  Paradiso and its portrayal of Heaven, which is described by Virgil as the city of God.

In addition, the inscription warns that Hell is a place of eternal woes, pain, and loss. Dante witnesses God’s intense punishment of those who sin, lending to Dante’s journey an otherworldly setting that crosses a span of time and memory. The last line of the inscription is an example of the elevated language and tone of Dante’s epic poem. Dante’s character, as well as the reader, are told to “abandon all hope” upon entering the gate of Hell, implying there is no escape from the Inferno with hope intact. Dante’s epic poem is one of the most influential works in the history of literature.

Example 2: Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto

This dog won’t hunt. This horse won’t jump. You get the general drift. However, he keeps on trying, but the fire won’t burn, the kindling is wet, and the faint glow of the ember is weak and dying. He has no other choice then but to let It go and take a nap on the ground there, lying Next to her—for whom Dame Fortune has more Woes and tribulations yet in store.

Ariosto’s epic poem of 1532 is an interpretation of the battles between the Saracen invaders and the Franks. Orlando Furioso is a brave warrior tasked to save his people, indicating a heroic character who is courageous and resolute. However, he suffers from a period of madness due to the seductions of Angelica. This circumstance represents an obstacle for the hero to overcome as a means of fulfilling his journey and destiny in ensuring the salvation of his people. The pairing of valiant duty and passionate love is common in epic poetry. In Ariosto’s work, Furioso ultimately recognizes passion as a weakness not befitting of a knight and he, therefore, returns to placing the importance of duty before any other action.

Example 3: Don Juan by Lord Byron

Between two worlds life hovers like a star, ‘Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge. How little do we know that which we are! How less what we may be! The eternal surge Of time and tide rolls on, and bears afar Our bubbles; as the old burst, new emerge, Lash’d from the foam of ages; while the graves Of Empires heave but like some passing waves.

Some poets, including Alexander Pope, wrote mock-epics to satirize heroic verse and its elevated stature which became epic works of their own. In “Don Juan,” Byron utilizes the elements of epic as a literary device to reinvent the story of the title character from the Spanish legend of “Don Juan.” However, in Byron’s work, the story of Don Juan is reversed. Rather than portraying the infamous character as a womanizer, he is presented as someone who is easily seduced by women. This allows Byron as a poet to satirize the legend and character of Don Juan in addition to the epic form of poetry as well.

However, though Byron’s epic poem is satirical, it is also masterful in its sixteen cantos of ottava rima or eighth rhyme . “Don Juan” features 16,000 lines in which Byron cleverly utilizes elevated language and tone as a nod to traditional epic poetry, but also intersperses a vulgar style of writing as well to subvert the epic tradition.

Synonyms of Epic

The distant synonyms for epic are a heroic poem, saga, legend, lay, romance , myth , history, chronicle, folk tale, long story, and long poem.

Related posts:

  • 15 Epic Uses of Apostrophe in The Iliad

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Beowulf Epic Hero: Characteristics and Relevance

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Published: Sep 12, 2023

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Characteristics of beowulf as an epic hero, beowulf as a model for heroism, relevance to contemporary issues, heroic deeds and their reflection of epic heroism, promotion of values: courage, perseverance, and sacrifice.

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