Heroic Literature YKTTW Discussion

Heroic Literature
Heroic epics, lays and sagas that aggrandize legendary heroes.
(permanent link) added: 2013-01-05 06:09:02 sponsor: LordGro edited by: ArcadesSabboth (last reply: 2013-06-13 13:47:02)

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Heroic literature is a genre of literature dedicated to the presentation of heroic legend. There are other genres (like mythography or pseudohistory) and media (like theatre) that conserve heroic legend, but this is the genre that really gave the word "heroic" its flavor: It tries to hold the audience in awe with the larger-than-life deeds and adventures of those famous people of the old time who were so much stronger and braver than folks today.

Heroic literature comes in different formats:

  • Heroic Lay a.k.a. Heroic Ballad: Narrative poem of short to moderate length that tells one episode or adventure from the career of a hero. It is the oldest format and already existed in oral form before writing. It is intended to be recited or sung to an audience and can be heard "at a piece."
  • Heroic Verse Epic: Narrative poem that is (much) longer and tells a more complex story than a Heroic Lay. It may tell a sequence of legendary events with a lot of characters and detail, or it may try to recount the life of a hero in its entirety. The earliest epics may have been composed orally by welding several heroic lays together, but the format was greatly furthered by the arrival of writing, which allowed poets and performers to keep track of much longer poems without their heads exploding (speaking figuratively). It is too long to be heard at a piece and therefore frequently divided into handy chapters or sections.
  • Heroic Tale and Heroic Prose Epic (a.k.a. Heroic Romance): Heroic legend as written prose narratives. While heroic legends certainly have been told in oral prose since the dawn of time, as a written genre this is actually the youngest type of heroic literature, as the format only became popular at a time when reading and writing was sufficiently widespread so that tales of ancient heroes were no longer exclusively intended for performance by professional singers or reciters.

Plotwise, heroic lays and epics revolve around one or several of three main conflicts:

  • Man vs. Monster: The simplest conflict that usually follows a Black and White Morality model: Good hero fights and vanquishes bad and ugly monster.
  • Man vs. Man: Much closer to common human reality, heroes in such conflicts often come away much less lustrous, as the morality model tends towards Grey and Gray Morality.
  • Man vs. Fate: In settings where gods are held responsible for human fortunes, this will often also mean Man vs. God(s). Differently from the other two conflicts, heroes can never actually win this fight. Rather, heroism in such kinds of stories is demonstrated by enduring the blows of fate with heroic determination.

Heroic Literature is one of the oldest genres of literature. In Europe, it eventually gave birth to the daughter genre of Chivalric Romance, which eclipsed Heroic Literature as the most popular genre in the High Middle Ages. It declined further and almost disappeared as a living genre around the Renaissance, but experienced a short revival in the wake of 19th century Romanticism, when there was a wave of collections, translations, remakes and emulations of heroic lays and epics.

Heroic Literature is also one of the most important inspirations to the modern Fantasy genre.

Epic poems that tell historical events are another genre that is strongly influenced by heroic poetry, but not part of it.

Examples of heroic literature:



Classical (ancient Greek and Roman)






Mesopotamia (Sumerian/Babylonian/Akkadian)



Quiché Maya
  • Popol Vuh: Prose epic (plus Sacred Literature)

Russian & Ukrainian


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