The Sentence and Other Epics
The epic as a genre is variable and includes various other forms, even other genres. The lyric and the novel are not unknown to it; likewise history, philosophy and science. Heroic saga does not take precedence over anthropogony, theogony or cosmography. Viewed comprehensively, the epic is no more inherently primitive, or sophisticated, than any other literary mode. It includes as much human experience as the drama and, unlike the drama, is effective in representing the divine realm and the natural world.
Stylistically it may be high, low or middling, and it may mix together several registers. It tends, however, toward grandeur: theophany, theology, allegory. Homer is only one among many western and other paradigms. Some have challenged, but none has excelled, him. True, Vergil may be said to overgo him, and Ovid, to overgo Vergil. These poets, though, like Dante, Ariosto and Tasso, are better regarded as three distinct types. It is not desirable that any epic include all the others. The Sentence deliberately limits its affiliations.
Its affiliations with Homer are made explicit (with the Iliad in Second,1, with the Odyssey in Second,2). Vergil is dispersed (his Eclogues to Renewed,2, his Georgics to Divine,2, 3 and epilogue, his Aeneid to Divine,1 and “Carthage” (Second,3 describes his final days). Ovid shares a book, titled This, with Lady Murasaki. Dante is the hypertext for Divine (whose Purgatory and Paradise also imitate Tasso and Ariosto). Milton is implicit in the biblical Every and classical Second. Spenser serves as the hypertext for Renewed.
Into Happening, my “epic of India,” I weave a synopsis of Ramayana; likewise, tags from Mahabharata into its closing pages. Into Realization, III I interweave the Bhagavad-Gita (into I, selected Upanishads; into II, selections from the Dhammapada). Carlyle’s French Revolution is quoted in Revolution, as my epic, at the start of ARES, devolves into satire. Hesiod’s Theogony figures in Her, where it competes with the Khmer theodicy of Angkor Wat. Possibly imitates a comic epic, Renewed,1 an Alexandrian.
I admire some epics that I have not included in the Sentence, and some that I have included (such as the Bible) I admire less. Gilgamesh I include to be comparative, a few medieval European Romances, to be inclusive. At Harvard I relished the stylistic magnificence of Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon, at Yale, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and his Troilus and Criseyde in Middle English. I have read in the Greek neither Homer nor Hesiod, in the Sanskrit neither Vyasa nor Valmiki, nor many others in their original versions.
During an age of excellent translations and commentaries to have spent my time, as did Milton, mastering a dozen languages would have been to distract myself from my larger project, which has required that I learn about many other matters. I have dipped into the Epic of World History and, without learning the hieroglyphs, Coptic or Arabic, into the world’s greatest civilization, the Egyptian. My principal object of imitation, however, has always been the Epic of Reality as focused by photo-mechanical modes of representation.