Today the word Epic is often used to describe a huge experience – ‘We had an epic night!’
An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos), from ἔπος (epos) “word, story, poem” is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation (Wikipedia)
Epic poetry was always performed – and often over a period of several days – by a skilled storyteller. It is likely that Homer (believed to be the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey) could not read or write – but that he created and memorised both works to be performed at festivals or great homes.
The scale of epic poetry is huge – the topics focus on immense battles, great heroes, great love and loss, and the power and jealousy of the Gods (from a range of cultures – Icelandic, Indian, Norse, Tamil, Greek, Roman, Irish, Persia, Moroccan, French, English, Russian).
The songlines of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples Indigenous Australian people are also epic in scope – but their purpose is more layered.
All epic works have the important function of preserving oral history – through the use of song, rhyme and rhythm. The repetition of key phrases allows for memorisation. However, when cultures are overwhelmed through war, genocide, disease or other disasters the loss of one life – that of the person who knows the epic song/story – means the loss of history and important knowledge about the way things are done, correct practices for the culture. For those who would have been provided with deeper understanding through initiations, the loss of a songline also means the loss of spiritual knowledge.