Classifications of epic poetry: There are a number of ways in which literary scholars have attempted to classify the various types of poems that claim to be "epics". The following two systems are offered for your consideration:
I. In A Preface to Paradise Lost C.S. Lewis distinguishes between primary and secondary epic poetry:
Primary epic--poetry "which stems from heroic deeds and which is composed in the first instance, in order that such deeds may not be forgotten." It is practical in purporting to record historical events and deals with the real world, "however much glamour may be added in the process."
Secondary epic--poetry which may deal with heroic legend or with more abstract themes than the type available to primary epic, and which is composed, not as an historical record of the past, but as the poet's artistic interpretation or recreation of legend or theme. The combination of the poet's 'seeing eye' and his personal style together create something which is not based on reality, but has a life of its own to be transmitted to the mind of the reader."
These heroic poems have a number of common characteristics:
(1) the choice of stories from a time when a superior race of men lives for action and for the honor and renown which it brings;
(2) the realistic presentation of minor details to form a solid background.
(3) the use of the single line, instead of the stanza, as the metrical unit;
(4) the taste for speeches, often of some length, spoken by the different characters;
(5) literary devices to vary or assist the narrative, such as similes, repeated passages, and incidental stories;
(6) the reluctance of the poet...