An epic is a long narrative poem that contains certain defining characteristics. Both John Milton's Paradise Lost and Seamus Heaney's Beowulf conform to these characteristics. Although the two poems both are considered epics, Milton's Paradise Lost is a better example than Heaney's Beowulf based on the epic standards. .
In order for a narrative to be considered an epic it must contain certain things. When the epic begins it opens by informing the reader of the theme and main subject or the epic. It must deal with a significant event that represents what mankind or a certain culture wants. It also must only be one main story line that is historically accurate and contains some mythological ideas. An epic includes large battles and fights with the hero typically having supernatural powers of some kind. The narrative also includes much interpretation and dramatization through the dialogue and a formal language type. It also includes many rhetorical devices. One final epic characteristic is it often begins in media res, or in the middle of the story. .
In Milton's Paradise Lost, many of these characteristics are clearly evident. The epic opens up with a muse giving the main idea and theme or the epic to follow. "Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit/Of that forbidden three, whose mortal taste/Brought death into the world, and all our woe, /With the loss of Eden, till one greater Man/Restore us, and regain the blissful seat." (Milton, lines 1-5) This lets you know that Milton is going to tell the story of creation and the original sin and the results of it. The actual story part begins in media res, with the creatures of hell discussing the effects of the Great War against heaven. This is a prominent event for all of mankind because based on Milton's poem, he explains the story of creation and how man came to be how they are. Milton also sticks to this plot throughout the entirety of the poem very strictly.