Difference Between Ballad and Epic

Key Difference – Ballad vs Epic

Poetry can be categorized into three basic types known as  lyric poetry, descriptive or didactic poetry and narrative poetry. Ballads and Epics are two primary literary forms that belong to narrative poetry. Narrative Poetry, which is about verbal representation in verse, has a sequence of connected events which drives characters through a plot. The key difference between ballad and epic ballads is their length; ballads usually focuses on a single episode of a story and are shorter in length.

Ballads and Epics were normally performed for audiences often with the use of music. The music used for these forms were composed around a repetitive poetic structure and was easily memorized and recognizable. Both these forms of art revolved around themes of adventure and romance, which featured characters with heroic qualities.

Ballad – Definition, Origin, Forms

The word Ballad originated from the Latin word, Ballare which means dancing song. This is also believed to be originated from France, and the oldest surviving ballads are dated back to the 14th century. By 17th and 18th centuries, English writers popularized ballads with the use of printing press. During this time of literature, single ballads were published as broadsides, which were large sheets of paper that featured a single poem. Ballads which were originally considered a low form of art was eventually raised to a better status by writers like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Coleridge.

Ballad Forms

Epic can be divided into two categories known as folk or traditional epic and literary or art Epic.

Folk Epic is originally transmitted from one generation to another orally. We cannot trace the origin of the ownership, yet later literary figures found out that these folk epics were written by well-known personalities. Folk epic is generally based on a particular mythology of the locality. In folk epic, we see the poet inventing the story. An example for a folk epic is Beowulf.

Literary or art epic generally imitates conventions of epic. This epic form is more polished and coherent. Art epic also compact in structure and style. According to many literary critics’ art epic have a significance from the literary point of view. An example for a folk epic is Paradise Lost.

Difference Between Ballad and Epic

Epic – Definition, Origin, Forms

The word Epic is derived from the ancient Greek adjective epikos, which means poetic story. The earliest complete surviving Epic is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is known to be composed between the 13th and 10th centuries B.C.  This piece of literature mainly deals with myth and fulfills a pseudo-historical, religious purpose for the culture, in which it was originated. Just like a Ballad, epic is also a narrative poem which deals with heroic deeds of a person with unusual courage and bravery with the use of grandiose style.

Epic Forms

Ballad is also divided as folk or traditional ballad and as a literary ballad.

Folk Ballads are known to be developed by anonymous poets. It is also similar to traditional ballads, which are handed down orally by one poet to another. This form of ballads tends to develop with alteration and absorbing with age and era.

Literary ballads, on the other hand, are known as imitations of the traditional ballads. These ballads are identified as originated from one author like a common man, a shepherd, a villager or a farmer. Art Ballads are more polished and lengthy. These form of ballads also possess all the remaining features of traditional ballads as well.

Key Difference - Ballad vs Epic

What is the difference between Ballad and Epic?



  • A short story in verse
  • A long narrative poem
  • Simple colloquial language – common words used in day to day life
  • Use of elevated style of language – sublime words are used to describe events
  • Universal appeal – touches upon a specific subject; which is not personal, or about the country yet rather deals with the whole humanity
  • Use of a certain culture, race, nation or a religious group on whose victory and failure depends on the whole nation or on a certain group
  • Written in quatrains that have a repetitive rhythmic scheme
  • Patterns of stressed syllables
  • Couplets and alternating refrains
  • Abrupt and unexpected opening
  • Use of exaggeration to make an impression on the audience
  • Use of epic simile, which is a far-fetched comparison between two objects that runs through many lines.
  • Recurrent syllables and a repetitive structure
  • Themes dwells mostly around tragic scenes, but there are some humorous ballads as well
  • Mortality is the key – gives moral lessons to the reader.
  • Legends are brought out with a central hero
  • Narrates a story, which is often dramatic or emotional
  • Usually starts with an invocation to muse, but then picks up the threads of the story from the middle and moves on to the end.
  • The story is mainly told through dialogues
  • Performed as oral poetry
  • Dwells upon only on one particular episode of the story
  • Use huge settings and lengthy time spans

  • The Ballad of Reading Gaoul
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Outlaw by Jesse James
  • La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats

  • Hindu Ramayana
  • Mahabharata
  • The Greek Iliad and Odyssey
  • The Roman Aeneid
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh (~2000 BCE)
  • The Iliad (800 BCE)
  • Paradise Lost (1667)

Ballad and Epic are both ancient literary works that were handed down from one generation to another specifically through the use of oral poetry. Therefore, we can say that Ballads and Epics have a major influence on the modern types of Poetry.