by Richard Beck
Homer’s Iliad, like the Bible, establishes time, and therefore history, as essential to the western tradition. The Old Testament chronicles the history of Israel; Homer’s first epic condenses the Fall of Troy into a matter of weeks. Hesiod sets his Theogony in Heaven, his Works and Days on Earth, the one universal, the other particular. In his second epic, the Odyssey, Homer expands the narrow space and time of Israel and Troy to include all the known world. Thereby is epic geographically and temporally expanded. No longer merely a microcosm of a single culture, it bodies forth instead the Cosmos, a feature adumbrated in the Iliad’s Shield of Achilles. Only in metaphor does Homer include the work-a-day world of his contemporary Hesiod. Like the Bible, which includes God and his divine son, they both include all their gods. Cosmology is a theme in Homer, Hesiod, Vergil and Ovid, as it is in the biblical Genesis, where the first seven days are recorded. Modern tradition names them Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sentence of the Gods recovers their earlier names, Roman, Greek and Middle Eastern, and denominates them SOL and LUNA, ARES, HERMES, HERA and APHRODITE, plus EL. These divine figures comprise the epic’s major sequences (see its emblem, whose letters are the first in the titles of its 26 books). The Sentence, then, is organized into three Solar books, four Lunar, four Martial, six Mercurial, four governed by Hera, nine by Venus and two by the ancient god El, the fateful Sumerian, Babylonian, Hebraic and Phoenician divinity renamed by the Greeks “Kronos” and again by the Romans “Saturn.” (See Frank W. Stevenson’s opening paragraph to Chapter 6, “El,” in Chaos and Cosmos in Morrison’s Sentence of the Gods (Bangalore: St. Joseph’s Press, 2005).
In my Introduction to MM: The Sentence Commuted (Norman, OK: Sentence of the Gods Press, 2005), I had acknowledged my need for “informants” to summarize work by Chinese and Japanese contributors. I might have made more explicit my uncertainties with regard to other Asian traditions, first among them, the Indian. One of course cannot allow one’s lack of Sanskrit and Pali, of Chinese and Japanese (or of the multitude of Southeast Asian languages) to inhibit one’s curiosity or to exclude one from matters that are accessible, albeit imperfectly, through translation. In fact MM himself, who has studied eight languages, has for the most part relied upon translation, especially in the case of Asia, to provide him with access to Vyasa and Valmiki, authors of Mahabharata and Ramayana, India’s greatest epics; to the philosophical texts of the Upanishads and the Dhammapada; to those of Confucius and Lao-zi (which he is capable of reading in Chinese); to such a Japanese classic as Lady Murasaki’s diary. He himself has admitted that he reads no Burmese, Thai or Cambodian, no Malay, Indonesian or Pilipino. In this regard I follow him. We live in a world, however, where it ill behooves us to justify our ignorance of Islam, of Africa, of other cultures on the grounds that we have no primary linguistic knowledge of them. With Realization, the twelfth volume in Sentence of the Gods, East meets West, a theme of much that follows in this ingeniously organized, universal epic. I ask the reader’s indulgence for my shortcomings as an introducer.