A pan-national epic is a lengthy work of poetry or prose that is widely taken to be representative of the pan-national character of a large cultural grouping that exceeds the bounds of a single nation-state or even a specific language or language group. Pan-national epics can be subdivided into supranational epics, which are epics held dear to several national groups speaking more than one language, and language epics, which are more narrowly restricted to nations sharing the same language. A nation can have its own distinct national epic in addition to a supranational and/or a language epic. Examples of pan-national epics follow:
- The Americas - The True History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo
- Indic Civilization – the Mahabharata and Ramayana
- Mesoamerican Civilization – the Popol Vuh
- Sinic world – the Four Great Classical Novels: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber
- Western Civilization – the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer and the Aeneid of Vergil
For languages spread across various nations, earlier national epics of the older nation work as language epics. For example, national epics of England, such as The Canterbury Tales, or the works of Shakespeare are used as language epics across the English-speaking world, and the Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran (Persia) is used as a language epic by other Persian-speaking communities, in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. See national epics for more examples.
Religious texts such as The King James Bible (English), Luther Bible (German), Quran (Arabic), and Tanakh (Hebrew) have similar impact within a specific language, while the Bible itself (in all translations) is instead a supranational epic of Western civilization.