My superficial understandings of these terms are quite distinct: a legend is told and retold, exists independently of a particular telling, is often held by some to have some grounding in historical events, and is not particularly constrained in scope. In contrast, an epic is told in a particular form, may be wholly fictional, and is otherwise mainly defined by its scope.

Yet there seems to be some connection here: the intersection between legends and epics is more extensive than you would expect if the terms were wholly unrelated. I feel there are some hard-to-pin-down connections, whether in subject matter, theme, or perspective. I have only a minimal, amateur familiarity with both folklore and literature, and I am interested in understanding this subject better. I only hope my question is not too vague.

  • Just to note: I have read through the answers and comments here: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/45130/… They are interesting, but I feel they mostly do not address what I'm trying to ask about. – Robin Saunders Jul 3 '20 at 18:32
  • I've tried to answer your question below. A clear-cut definition separating one from the other is hard to come by: There's a fair amount of overlap and "squishyness" in the various definitions I looked at. Below, I've given definitions from various sources and provided some examples. – rolfedh Jul 4 '20 at 12:04
  • Thanks - I appreciate your answer, but it seems to be focused on my first paragraph (the "official" definitions of the terms, and the distinction between those) whereas I intended that mainly as context for the second paragraph (are there underlying connections or commonalities between them?). Perhaps my question is too vague after all. – Robin Saunders Jul 4 '20 at 16:17
  • How would you refine your question to get better answers? – rolfedh Jul 5 '20 at 0:46
  • I’m voting to close this question because it isn't about writing, it's about literary categories. It would be more suitable on our other site Literature. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Jul 17 '20 at 5:00

According to WikiDiff: "As nouns, the difference between legend and epic is that legend is a story of unknown origin describing plausible but extraordinary past events while epic is an extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, celebrating the feats of a deity or demigod (heroic epic) or other legendary or traditional hero."

According to YourDictionary, "Epic literature comes from the oral traditions of ancient civilizations. Epic poems have been created throughout history, up to the present day. Epic poems are included in all three genres of poetry, which include lyric, dramatic, and narrative", such as:

  • "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe
  • "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • "Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Epic example: "He who has seen everything, I will make known (?) to the lands. I will teach (?) about him who experienced all things,... alike, Anu granted him the totality of knowledge of all. He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden, he brought information of (the time) before the Flood. He went on a distant journey, pushing himself to exhaustion, but then was brought to peace. He carved on a stone stela all of his toils, and built the wall of Uruk-Haven, the wall of the sacred Eanna Temple, the holy sanctuary."- Epic of Gilgamesh

According to Literary Terms, "A legend (/ˈlejənd/) is a story about human events or actions that has not been proved nor documented in real history. Legends are retold as if they are real events and were believed to be historical accounts. They usually tell stories about things that could be possible, so both the storyteller and the audience may believe they are true. Its meaning stems from the Medieval Latin term legenda, meaning "things to be read." and from the Latin legendus." It goes on to say that "Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur is the most famous and influential collection of tales in literature detailing the legend of King Arthur. "

Let's validate the differentiation by applying them to a pair of examples:

  • Legend: "Le Morte d'Arthur" is a collection of stories "of unknown origin describing plausible but extraordinary past events" that was compiled by Sir Thomas Malory.
  • Epic: "The Canterbury Tales" "is an extended narrative poem" composed by Chaucer.

The definition seems to hold up.

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