I’m quite familiar with novels and stories, if my personal view is concerned I would say that story is just a compact and summarised form of novel. The level of detail in novels is, obviously, much more than in a stories. But what is an epic? Is it just a more detailed version of a novel?

In my course book, there is a short paragraph of John Milton and it reads like this

John Milton (1608-74) is acknowledged as the greatest English poet after Shakespeare. As a product of the Reformation Movement in England, he combines the Renaissance passion for truth and beauty with the religious fervour is the Puritans. He is best known for Paradise Lost, the only epic composed in English Language so far. His literacy art is so consummate that he is credited as being ‘the most sublime of English Poets’ and known as ‘master of the grand style.’

Why there are no other epics in English Language than Paradise Lost? Is there some specific reason for that? Or is the English language is simply more used to novels and poetry?

UPDATE: My question is related to this post but there are some differences which the answerer should focus on. My question is mostly about English Literature and the book’s emphasis on “only epic composed so far”. My question asks for a clear definition of an epic, in contrast with novel and story.


Since Milton is often discussed in the context of Renaissance literature, I'll quote the definition of "epic" from The Renaissance (edited by Marion Wynne-Davies, Bloomsbury Guides to English Literature, Bloomsbury, 1992):

A narrative of heroic actions, often with a principal hero, usually mythical in its content, offering inspiration and ennoblement within a particular cultural or national tradition.

John Milton wrote two works that fit this definition, namely Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, thereby disproving the claim that he wrote "the only epic composed in English Language". Another Renaissance poet, Edmund Spenser, wrote the epic poem The Faerie Queene (published in the 1590s).

In addition, Wikipedia lists more than 40 epic poems in the English language, including the following:

If a handbook claims that John Milton wrote the only epic poem in the English language, its author or authors are wrong. They may not be competent enough to write about the history of English literature.

  • Does the length (I mean number of pages) matter for literary work to be called an epic? – Knight wants Loong back Jul 13 '20 at 14:09
  • @Knight The number of pages is not helpful since that depends on font size and the size of the pages. The number of lines or verses would be a better indication, but there is no defined minimum number. As far as I know, the above examples are book-length works. – Tsundoku Jul 13 '20 at 14:37
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    @AustinHemmelgarn I didn't add any non-English examples of epics because the question is explicitly about epics in the English language. – Tsundoku Jul 13 '20 at 19:36
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    @Knight Length comparisons aren't very helpful, since novels vary in length from, say, 100-120 pages (some might argue those are novellas) to several thousand pages. Epics also vary a lot in length; the Mahabharata, for example, is huge. – Tsundoku Jul 14 '20 at 9:18
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    @Tsundoku The reason I was suggesting adding examples from other languages was to provide a point of reference for the quoted definition, as outside of literature focused scholarly circles stuff like the Iliad and Odyssey are still relatively well known, but most of the English epics are not necessarily. – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 14 '20 at 13:16

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