Madison Morrison's Web / Literary Correspondence / Ron: On Homer and MM’s Second

On Homer and MM’s Second

(1) Jomtien, October 23, 2009

Dear Ron,

I am responding at once to your long letter of October 5, received by the postal service in Banglamung, October 14, which I found October 19 in my Jomtien Beach Paradise box. I am doing so, as you will see, piecemeal, with a separate card, which includes a separate letter about your ambitious project of aphorisms.

Here I am concerned to give you some materials that might help with the application of your Homeric studies to Sentence of the Gods and accordingly am attaching (a) “The Sentence and other Epics,” (b) “Hesiod: Ritual Enactment and Literary Embodiment” and (c) “Homer Past and Present.”

These are things that I have recently designed for my web site. (a) will go up on the Sentence of the Gods page, along with other notes and with your critical masterpiece “The Sentence of Madison Morrison,” which resides there permanently in the original and in Chinese, Thai, Romanian and Vietnamese translations.

(b) will go up on the Her page of my web site, where it will stay for a while, until Frank W. Stevenson produces a piece on the Hesiodic element in Her to replace it. (c) will go up on the Second index page along with other Homeric materials, and on the Sentence of the Gods page, along with other recent notes.

If you, with the help of Richard, should produce the work that we have all been anticipating (“The Sentence as Homeric”), we will replace “Homer Past and Present” with your new essay. So I am hoping that you will now turn to the Iliad and the Odyssey and give some thought to them in relation to my work.

You will notice that I have also included one of several sketches for Divine. In its upper right-hand corner this sketch refers to Homer and Vergil. Another sketch, already posted on my web site, makes more explicit the relation of Homer to Second and Second to Divine. I have the original version here in Jomtien.

Let me know if you would like for me to send you a color Xerox of it. The last sketch, a vertical as well as horizontal reading of the emblem, you may find of interest. I am trying to respond to your desideratum that I offer more explanation of the Sentence as a whole. I would be happy to answer other questions.

As always,

(2) Jomtien, October 23, 2009 (second email of the day)

Dear Ron,

You are laboring in a morass, in a literary slough. It is a common error among great literary critics (see the poems of I.A. Richards or Edmund Wilson) to think that good ideas are a sufficient basis for composing belletristic works.

Ideas are not enough! Degas famously showed a few “poems” of his to Mallarmé, asking the poet to comment on his “ideas.” Mallarmé famously responded, “Poems, Degas, are not made of ideas, they are made of words.”

Your words are piquant, and your ideas of course are dazzling, but these things of yours read not as “aphorisms” but as formless “sayings.” Aside from their lack of form (they should be in strict rhymed couplets), there are far too many.

Like advertising slogans, they are in need of “stationing” (to use a term from one of Keats’s letters). For your model you might consider, say, the old-fashioned billboard, with its eye-catching picture accompanied by a snappy caption.

On a billboard, two such captions would be one more than was required. So one must figure out how to present these things. You yourself have discerned the problem: “1000 aphorisms,” you say, “enough to inspire 1000 poems.”

Unfortunately, what we want is the poems (or advertising billboards, or DVD jackets, or whatever) not the interminable collection of “sayings.” Your aphorisms must come at us one at a time, with long pauses in between them.

A way to create the pause would be to follow a tight-knit “aphorism,” used as its title, with a casual commentary. But one could also imagine a more elaborate structure, one which permitted the use of many such aphorisms.

I leave the solution to you.

As always,

(3) Jomtien, October 26, 2009

Dear Ron,

As a life-long devotee of James Joyce you quite naturally inhabit the opposite camp from that of Ezra Pound, who, as you know, returned his copy of Finnegans Wake to Joyce with the words “la décadence” scribbled on its title page. Pound is one of the angels of light, however difficult his illuminations. He taught us how to live, as Joyce did not. He introduced us to Confucius. He saw that Homer was more important than Greek philosophy, that the Hebraic-Christian tradition was severely provincial. Ezra Pound did more than any single man has ever done to revise the priorities of civilization.

You say that you prefer Dickens to Tasso. I too am the friend, not an enemy, of Dickens (see P&U p.158). As with Shakespeare, though, it is not enough that a great writer be “human” (as a recent critic vapidly calls the Bard) or “an entertainer.” Unlike Tasso, Dickens did not revise the history of literature. Discursi sulla poema heroica not only alters our view of Aristotle’s Poetics but also of the whole epic tradition from Vergil through Ariosto, including the medieval romance. This represents a different order of accomplishment from Dickens’. Both Spenser and Milton worshipped Tasso.

I do not worship Ezra Pound, I simply agree with him that his own version of his place in western literature (among Homer, Ovid and Dante) is credible (he was, after all, a great critic, as Shakespeare, Dickens and Joyce were not). The best writers are critical as well as imaginative geniuses: see the example of Vergil (the greatest critic of Homer), of Ovid (the greatest reviser of Vergil), of Cervantes (the greatest critic of western culture), of Goethe (the critical genius of Germany). and so on. You are in this company as a critic. As an imaginative writer, you lacked the necessary guidance.

You did not pursue the publication of your manuscripts and so did not complete your work. Had you escaped from Seminole, Oklahoma, you would have met your equals in genius. As it is, you did not even submit to the critical scrutiny of your Oklahoma peers. Joyce too was a hermit of sorts, and his decision to cast the Wake in an obscure idiom was a critical mistake. Likewise Milton’s regrettable decision to cast Paradise Lost in such an exclusively lofty voice and Latinate diction was a critical mistake.

Great minds, great writers make great mistakes, but they can often be rescued, or sometimes rescue themselves, from them. Milton redeemed the stylistic excess of Paradise Lost in Paradise Regained. Arnold rescued himself from the fate of a minor poet by writing profound criticism. One must be a social as well as a solitary genius. Though you have elsewhere made mistakes, you make no mistakes in your divinely urbane, incisive criticism, which is everywhere sociable, genial and well-informed.

Fare forward, O mighty Sage of Seminole, that thou may’st be remembered.

(4) Jomtien, December 20, 2009

Dear Ron,

Here begins my response to your exuberant philosophical omnibus of November 12, 2009. Having printed out your email and read it twice, I find many details that require responding to under the rubric of correcting various misconceptions about my work (in case you should see fit eventually to treat it again in an expanded Sentence of Madison Morrison). Accordingly, I will not attempt to match your high spirits, sense of humor or general epistolary glory but instead simply quote passages from the text of this general email of yours about the Sentence and comment on them in detail:

The “Eastern religion” factor, certainly emphatic in Realization, grows and grows, but yes, it is qualified by a later Hellenism.

Do not forget Engendering, the “Chinese” counterpart to the “Indic” Realization, since the Chinese element in the Sentence is every bit as important as the “Indic.” Please note that there are three Indic books (Realization, Happening and Bangalore Esightings; the last of these, published independently, will be collected in and subsumed under Life) and six Chinese books, Revolution (See Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9), Engendering and Excelling, plus the three landscape books (Exists, Regarding and All, based, respectively, upon the dynastic models of Yuan, Sung and Ming landscape painting).

This list does not include MM’s China, which stands to Excelling as Bangalore Esightings does to Happening, i.e., as an aggiornamento to my book about India. Also, in Particular and Universal there is “an Indic element,” in my essay on “Classical Hindu Culture and Whitman’s Democratic Thought,” in “More Asian Importations in Yeats, Eliot and Pound” (See my treatment of Yeats and Eliot) and in “A Native Buddhist Strain in Stevens, Williams and Frost,” where a Buddhist rather than a Hindu influence is discerned. My treatment of Pound takes up his Chinese element.

As a balance there to my Confucian emphasis I included in P&U the essay that I wrote for the 1980 NEH Summer Seminar in Chinese Literature at Stanford, titled “Poetry and Philosophy in the Lao-zi.” Concerned with Taoism, it supplements the use of Chinese Buddhist quotations in Chapter 3 with quotations from the original source of Taoist thought. Latterly I have taken up Confucianism again, in the first of my web site presentations (See “Special topics,” a digital complement to Particular and Universal). The first topic on “MM’s Web” is titled, “Confucian, Neo-Confucian and After.”

As you say, my work returns to Hellenism, in the retrograde reading but also in Life, where “A Farewell to Greece” serves as an aggiornamento of Second. After ditching the “divorce journal” that originally comprised Every and Second, I redid the diptych as an in situ account of Israel; Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey; the Greek Aegean; and Italy (the loci, respectively, of the Old Testament, the Christian Diaspora, Telemakhos’ and Odysseus’ travels, Vergil’s life and scenes from the Aeneid). This all followed my re-immersion in ancient Greek culture (I taught Homer for thirteen years in China).

Before I got your last letter I had decided that if I am a Buddhist Christian then you are a Buddhist Pagan. After all, the whole fucking thing is the gods. Polytheism? Or are The Gods a fifth column to sneak in a Universal Religion of All Religions? The Sentence of the Gods is a religion, a religion of The Book, like the Koran or Finnegans Wake.

There is a great deal to respond to here. (If my responses are inadequate or incomplete, pose your questions again.) The principal issue, it seems to me, is whether Sentence of the Gods is a sacred work, as, say, the epics of Dante, Tasso, Spenser, Milton and Blake are sacred. I would rather prefer to think of my overall model as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is concerned with the gods but suspends belief in them. By a distant analogy, my work is about SOL, LUNA, ARES, HERMES, HERA, APHRODITE and EL, but only obliquely so. I worship these gods only implicitly, if at all.

You may, for the sake of symmetry with your own belief, be overemphasizing the Buddhist element in my work and “belief.” My interest in Buddhism is rather bookish and rather practical. Since I have taken up residence in Southeast Asia (I have traveled to Thailand 24 times and had a residence visa here for four years), Buddhism is a natural object of curiosity. I was asked to give a lecture on “Buddhism in Art” and over the past eighteen months have read and reviewed three dozen books about Buddhism, which I am not entirely sympathetic with (“All life is” NOT “suffering,” for a start).

However, I like your idea of the Sentence as a “religion of The Book,” as a bookish treatment of religion. I am neither a Christian nor a Pagan believer, neither a practicing Hindu nor a practicing Buddhist. My aim is not to have the Sentence regarded as the text for a new religion, but I would certainly be happy if your “school children all over the world” arose together before my emblem at the start of the school day and recited the titles of its 26 books as a pledge of allegiance. Should doing so turn them into polytheists, the effect, in my view, would make the world a more tolerant place.

Technically, a more precise model for the sequence is henotheism (as in ancient Egypt, medieval India, and classical Greece): Each Egyptian nome worshipped by turns a different god in the pantheon. Thus we might regard the Sentence as moving us through time and space from the worship of the Sun to the worship of the Moon, of War, of Wisdom, of the Earth, of the complex that Aphrodite constitutes, of the monotheistic God; but then — and of equal importance — as returning us by stages from EL back to SOL again, with all that this “regression” implies.

A good but certainly not a card-carrying Jungian, I believe not in the Holy Trinity but in the Holy Quaternion: the Father, the Mother, the Son and the Daughter. As in the four forces of nature: the strong force, the weak force, electromagnetism, and gravity.

I believe in the trilogy (see SOL), the trilogy of trilogies (reading backwards: All Regarding Exists, Her Engendering Realization, Magic Every Second) and the tetralogy (See LUNA, ARES and HERA). The Quaternion is stronger than the Trinity.

Such and such a part of your work is the Odyssey, but in what sense? I can walk two miles to the liquor store and back and write down a totally plain, realistic account of it and say it is really Jason and the Argonauts. Well, uh, the $9.75 bottle of Tvarski vodka is the Golden Fleece, etc. The connection is not in the work, it is there because my exegesis says it is.

I will be quite frank: You should first reread “Allegory and the Western Epic” (Chapter 5 of P&U) and then have a long discussion with Richard about allegory and allegoresis. I have been heavily influenced by the allegorical tradition (for thirteen years I taught graduate seminars in Milton and Spenser, Tasso and Dante, Ovid, Vergil and Homer) and the practice of allegoresis (the allegorical reading by and of the great poets in the allegorical tradition). I too am willing to help you with this. You need to get a copy of Tasso’s Discursi sulla poema eroica and begin by reading it carefully.

You, however, pose a more fundamental question here: Why, when you choose to exemplify the problem, do you think of Apollonius, who in turn is thinking of Homer? I would suggest that you do so, because you too are imbued with Homer, who himself is allegorical, is the fount and origin of all high western literature (and in a sense of all western thought). To analyze your own example further: Why do you choose to make your point with reference to an outward voyage and return? The redemption of Helen, the capture of the Golden Fleece, the purchase of the bottle of Tvarski are all of a piece.

More fundamentally still: you are locked in the modern conception of literature as naturalistic, as merely mimetic. But Aristotle equally emphasizes mimesis and harmonia. The latter implies the interpretation, the allegorization of experience by the author and its further allegoresis by the critic. Is this not what you have done above? Created a little naturalistic story, then allegorized it in the telling? Allegory occurs both inside the work and outside the work. For two thousand years this was a critical truism. Only we moderns naively suppose that a literary work can exist free of allegory and allegoresis.

I was urging you to explicate the Sentence yourself. . . . One idea would be to have one page for each of the books, explaining its character and its formal function in the Sentence as a whole, in other words a tour guide.

During the summer of 2006 Richard, with my help, wrote for my web site one page about each book, describing its formal function in the Sentence as a whole.

Enough for one email.

(5) Jomtien, December 25, 2009

Dear Ron,

I continue now where I left off in my email of December 20, allowing yours of November 12 to dictate the order of my responses. Again I will quote passages and comment. I am being selective. If I fail to address an issue, just let me know. Likewise, if I have not dealt exhaustively enough with issues that you have raised, please let me know. There is no particular significance in my having skipped over many passages in your email. (What I had desired was a commentary on Sentence of the Gods; instead I am producing a commentary on Ron Phelps!)

The first six books in the Sentence form an Overture to the rest of the Sentence; it would be helpful for someone reading Sleep to know this, just as it is helpful to know that the first three chapters of Joyce’s Ulysses are about Telemachus and serve as a prelude to Bloom’s Odyssean adventures.

One of your inferences here is that SOLUNA is my Telemakhiad. This to me is very suggestive. As a young writer (I began to write the poems in Sleep at the age of 30 and published the book at the age of 41), though I was older than Telemachus, I was not yet the age of Odysseus. I deliberately varied the style of the first six books (as a young, rather than mature, writer might do). Though there are connections between SOLUNA and some of the things that follow (notably Revolution and Each, for example), the first six books, as you observe, stand apart from the other twenty.

If I may be allowed to go on a bit: Homer’s Telemakhiad sets a precedent for the epic writers who imitate him, directly or indirectly. Thus Ascanius, Aeneas’s son, figures in Vergil’s early books. The Odyssey’s themes are set out in its first four books (a sixth of the 24-book total); likewise, in the Aeneid’s first two books (a sixth of its twelve-book total), in Paradise Lost’s first two books (a sixth of its twelve books), in the first two books of The Faerie Queene (a third of the present poem but a sixth of the projected 24-book version), as well as in the influential first two cantos of Dante’s Comedy.

At the end of Finnegans Wake Anna says, “The keys to. Given! Don’t neglect to give those keys . . .”

Berrigan has a poem in which, as he nears death, he represents himself as traveling down through a series of locks. “There are no keys,” he says.

I do not understand your blanket respect for erudition qua erudition. Pound is the proof that erudition aesthetics is not going to hack it, and I mean artistically. Old and terminally depressed (as he should have been) Pound recanted a good many things to Ginsberg. They were walking by a shop window and Pound gestured and said that he had written the Cantos like that, jumbling together a motley assortment of things. The Cantos have a lot of nerve suggesting Dante, the greatest Formalist poet of all times.

(a) The greatest poets have all been immensely erudite (as have the greatest prose writers — Plato and Aristotle, Erasmus and More, Bacon and Samuel Johnson, Carlyle and the greatest modern novelists: Cervantes, Tolstoi, Henry James, Joyce). Homer knew everything there was to know about his world; he probably traveled from one end of it to the other. Vergil was possibly the most learned writer who has ever lived.

Ovid, like Cervantes and Henry James, was not only immensely learned but also had their gift of disguising his learning in the interests of being entertaining. Dante, Spenser and Milton were massively erudite. You are misunderstanding Pound. His great originality was to make his epic refer to the actual world, to the world of economics, the world of politics, the world of Chinese ideograms and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

He wishes to include the entire world, in the tradition of encyclopedic, universal epic (a tradition begun by Herodotus and the Roman annalists), not to mediate the world through an authorial voice. The contemporary perpetuation of Romanticism, in poetry, in the antiquated form of the novel, in academic criticism, wishes to ignore Pound’s innovation, since it challenges this second-hand Romantic literature.

(b) What you are overlooking here are Ginsberg’s intentions and his unreliability. By reporting these things (which Pound may have said in candor and modesty) Ginsberg is doing dirt on Pound and promoting his own Romantic vision of the world. I knew Ginsberg quite well. He deliberately destroyed his rivals. In Holland I found that he had tried to ruin my reputation with Martin Mooij, the Dean of International Poetry.

(c) I should make two points about meter: (1) Till the end, Patrick Nagle, an accomplished metrist, maintained that the whole of the Cantos could be scanned as a loose form of iambic meter. (Pound of course was a far more accomplished metrist than Patrick.) (2) One does not, however, overgo such an accomplished metrist, say, as Dante (Tasso and Ariosto failed to) by being conventionally metrical in one’s work.

Look at the 19th and 20th century writers who most successfully overgo the Comedy, or at least aspects of it: Blake and Carlyle, Yeats and Joyce, but also Pound. Vergil used one method to overgo Homer, Ovid a different method. Merrill, a meticulous but innovative metrist, overgoes the Comedy, not by writing in hendecasyllabics but, by analogy with Pound, in a loosened if stricter iambic meter.

As always,

(6) Jomtien, December 31, 2009

Dear Ron,

I notice there is little about music in the Sentence.

You have raised the question of the relation, for the writer, of Music to Literature, by extension the question of the relation, for the writer, of Art to Literature. A knowledge of anything can be relevant to the writer, but in my experience, as a writer and as a reader, I do not know of any successful writer whose work can be shown conclusively to have profited from a technical or historical knowledge of music or visual art.

The arts are what they are because of our biology: painting and sculpture, because we have eyes; music, because we have ears; architecture, because we have a native ability to discern complex spatial relations; dance because we have a native sense of movement. Poetry is the one art form that seems to have no relation to biology. Yeats chanted his poems. Though tone deaf, he was the most musical of modern poets.

As a child I learned to play the violin and sang in the church choir, later in the Yale Russian Chorus, but I never cared for performance. I mildly enjoy music but have little technical knowledge, though I took two courses at Yale in its history and two more courses from Debussy to Stravinsky, in which I wrote a long analysis of Webern, Berg and Schoenberg. I doubt that this has had any effect on my work.

I do not think that I could put Bach (my favorite composer) into the Sentence, any more than I could model the Sentence on Vermeer (my favorite painter). Incidentally, I have sent you and Richard a single copy of the second volume of Hillary Spurling’s engrossing biography of Matisse, my favorite 20th century painter, and asked that, when he is finished, Richard take it out to Seminole and leave it with you.

I am defiantly, hayseedishly, monoglot.

Again, Yeats was essentially monoglot, a limitation that did not hurt his work. He got the better of Pound and Joyce, who both were musical and also polyglot. As with art and music, knowing a lot of languages is not essential, but one is well advised to recall that the greatest writers have usually been multilingual. Shakespeare, an inventor of English, and Dickens, needed no language but English for their popular work.

Dickens, however, is said to have spoken perfect French (“with no concession to the accent”). Shakespeare read Latin and “small Greek” and based plays on French and Italian texts (I suspect that he could speak these modern languages). People in the high tradition, then, tend to be multilingual: Both Milton and Joyce knew a dozen languages. As a hayseed, Pound may or may not have been intimidated by this.

Is the sun down in Light? And who is Sol Invictus?

Most of the events that occur in the poem, as I recall, occur during the daytime. All the material comes from a year’s worth of dreams. My original curiosity was to see how daytime events during that year might manifest in dream, but the majority of the dreams came from other psychic locations. Light of course is half-LUNA, half-SOL. Sol Invictus (the inconquerable Sun) is a traditional allegorical figure.

You say that FW is obscure but so is the real profundity of the Sentence.

Unlike Finnegans Wake, most of the Sentence can be readily translated. I would hope that its “profundity,” such as it is, can be discerned beneath the surface by an uneducated but meditative reader. Your model of “profundity,” though, seems to derive from such heroes of yours as Nietzsche, Wagner and Proust. The Sentence is not a Romantic work of tenebrous shadows. In certain ways it is rather Neoclassical.

You never name the sources of your intertexts.

Not within the books themselves, but most sources are pretty obvious: the Iliad and Odyssey; the Old and New Testaments; The Egyptian Book of the Dead; Upanishad, Dhammapada and Gita; Analects and Dao De Jing; the Theogony. Richard in his Introductions identifies them. At any rate, I am not deliberately withholding this information for effect. It seems unnecessary to acknowledge the translators.

If I imagined an ideal reader, it would be your average undergraduate.

I have doubts about your premise here: that one must target an ideal reader of such a complex, multifold work as Sentence of the Gods. As with anything that one writes, one keeps in mind its intelligibility, but as a practiced, often published, writer one does this instinctively. Certainly my reader need not have “mastered the Western canon,” as you suggest. Above all, there is nothing “superelite” about the Sentence.

You want the Sentence to be all and to save the world.

I appreciate these provocations of yours, as a way of eliciting comment, but I am not quite sure what “be all” means here. I am writing a universal (i.e., comprehensive) and cosmological epic (i.e., one concerned with the whole cosmos as we can know it). I seriously doubt, however, that Sentence of the Gods will ever serve any soteriological function. On the other hand, if it makes people cosmopolitan, fine.

“I despise Orientalism” (Stevens). Not the East — Orientalism.

It has never seemed to me that anything that I wrote smacked of “Orientalism.” This, of course, depends upon how the reader responds to books about China, India, Northeast and Southeast Asia and their cultural traditions. I accept your “East is West, and West is East.” At the same time I am obviously part of a movement among westerners to come to terms with the differences between East and West.

I am floored that you prefer Paradise Regained to Paradise Lost.

This is not what I said. I said that PR corrects for the stylistic excess of PL. I am very impressed by Milton’s solution to the difficult problem of how to put words in the mouth of Jesus Christ. (Notice that I avoid the words of Christ in Every,5.) The last two books of PL may be “dull,” but they are not to me “disappointing.” Instead I am again very impressed by Milton’s artistry, in his treatment of the post-lapsarian world.

Pound of course hated Milton, and so did Eliot.

I am not sure that “hated” is quite the right word for Pound, who in the Cantos may simply be avoiding a depleted tradition of Miltonic imitation, from Dryden to his English contemporaries. Eliot wrote two essays on Milton, an early anti-Miltonic piece and a later piece in which he reversed his earlier position. Shelley, an atheist, regarded PL as the greatest poem ever written. (Religious belief is not the key to everything.)

I have been influenced by . . . John Updike . . . Joyce, etc., etc.

Have you ever heard the recording of an interview with Updike in which he talks about Joyce? A friend in Bangkok happened to play it for me in 1992, when I was teaching at Thammasat University. Two sentences that I can remember: (1) “The thing I like about Joyce” (said Updike) “is his treatment of the family.” (2) “When he died, Joyce’s desk was clear.” Updike was a charming, professional critic.

You seem to think of yourself as a pioneer who will be improved on.

Though someone else in time may adopt the in situ method, it seems to me very unlikely that any writer will apply it, as have I, to so many scenes of writing. (I have visited 73 countries.) The Sentence, then, will be all but inimitable, as a whole.

(7) Jomtien, January 3, 2010

Dear Ron,

Happy New Year! I am celebrating by attaching corrected galley proofs of Second,1. I will try to send the corrected galley proofs of Second,2 and Second,3 to you before I leave Thailand, January 30. As usual, I have removed more errors in and made more changes to an already published text than one would have thought possible. Nonetheless, very little, in fact nothing, of substance has been changed in Second,1.

Since you had asked for help in reading the individual books of the Sentence, I thought that I would make a few remarks about my intentions in this, my Homeric imitation (or perhaps the term, used of Vergil — aemulatio — is more accurate, for I am emulating Homer and attempting to supersede him, rather than simply imitating him). My text includes Homeric passages and summaries but in certain ways side-steps Homer.

It might instead be thought of as imitating Apollodorus, upon whom I rely for most of my summaries (some are my own). In fact, as Richard pointed out long ago, my work is really more like Herodotus than Homer. One might even say that I stand in the line of Herodotus, Apollodoros (his summarizer) and Pausanius, the ancient peripatetic who produced the first in situ account, a kind of tourist’s guide to the ancient world.

Speaking of tourist guides, you have my guidebook to Istanbul, as well as the biography of Kamal Attaturk, both of which I relied upon and quote in Second,1. You also have the Lattimore text of the Iliad, which I use here, and the Lattimore text of the Odyssey, which I use in Second,2. Most of the other quoted materials, from other guide books, newspapers, and so on, have obvious sources that are explicitly identified.

Now for a few, more specific, notes on “How to read Second”: Let us begin with the opening scene. I will refer to the galley proofs by paragraph.

3rd paragraph “a parked blue car faces a parked red car” You should know that throughout Second I use colors with reference to the major phases of the Sentence, whose seven stages and their corresponding colors are as follows:

SOLUNA (white)
ARES (red)
HERMES (blue)
HERA (brown)
APHRODITE (yellow)
EL (black)

This does not mean, however, that every use of each of these colors must be puzzled over in relation to the major phases of the Sentence, but it does mean that certain passages have more meaning and intention that might normally be expected.

The “S” in HERMES is both a part of ARES and a part of HERMES. One way of conceiving the letter is to see its upper half as red, its lower half as blue. In another sense, it is both all red and all blue, everything belonging to ARES and to HERMES.

In the sentence quoted above a parked blue car (HERMES) faces a parked red car (ARES). This should be enough of a key, so that you can read the color symbolism elsewhere in Second, again with the proviso that not every detail is symbolic.

4th paragraph “There is nothing heroic in the scene.” Clearly the modern world is being contrasted with the world of Homer. The complication here is of course that elsewhere there is heroism in the modern world (hence Attaturk’s presence).

5th paragraph “A military vehicle arrives, out of which woodenly descend two dozen troops.” The Trojan Horse was made of wood. From its belly, once it has been taken inside Troy, enough troops exited to initiate the conquest of the city.

7th paragraph The cause of all this, the Fall of Troy, is Helen.

8th paragraph “a cop car . . . red and blue lights flashing in alternation” Here is a third way of conceiving the intermixture of ARES and HERMES, as an alternation of one god or phase with another god or phase. (Cp. Vergil’s practice in Aeneis.)

14th paragraph Here I give an introduction to Priam’s Palace in its contemporary guise, as a stage on which events take place. In fact Second,1 includes three palaces:

(1) the Dolmabhace, a 19th century edifice (“It contains Baroque, Medieval and Empire” elements — to quote the guidebook — in its design and decoration)

(2) Topkapi, the famous, fantastically elegant, medieval palace, which enables me to supplement the native Turkish cultural elements found elsewhere

(3) Sergey Saray, the modern media palace that has recently replaced a gazino (read brothel) and, just a few weeks before the narrative begins, been torched by political protesters. Until the last pages, when I circumbulate it seven times, in imitation of Achilles dragging the corpse of Hektor seven times about Priam’s palace, I usually view it from my 8th floor hotel window.

The 30th paragraph includes the following quotation, to which I draw your attention as a general rubric for Second and for the Sentence as a whole:

“Look no longer in the pages of Homer, or in the elegy, or the tragic Muse, or lyric verse and seek no longer in the sonorous verses of the cyclic poets; no, look in me, and you will discover all that the world contains.” [A quotation from Diodorus Siculus]

My method in Second is characteristic of my method in all the books of the HERMES sequence (and the same method is used, often intermittently or even inconsistently, in many of the later books of the Sentence), to wit, I combine:

(1) A fixed or immutable element, such as Hermes (who, in another sense is never fixed or immutable but always in motion and changing)

(2) An interaction between Heaven and Hell (both of which Hermes regularly visits, shuttling from Heaven to Earth to Hell and back)

(3) A combination of Hermes and/or Ares/Hera with the sublunary world, according to various alchemical proportions and formulae

(4) The mundane world, which in my work, unlike that of most other epic writers (Tolstoi an exception), is the primary object of representation

I draw your attention to an important sentence that I quote from Hammond:

“When Homer and Hesiod canonized the Greek legends in literary form, they stood close to the springs of oral tradition; they were concerned, in the Greek manner, with reality and not fiction.” Nagy has picked up and developed this.

I do not regard Homer as “fictional.” He is not, in other words, a novelist, but, like MM, a poet of reality. For the mythic writer or performer myth is reality. I regard myself as having introduced more reality into epic than did Homer.

One might say, then, that Second is a meditation on myth, legend, history and biography, all in relation to epic, specifically in relation to the epics of Homer.

As with Milton in relation to Dante, as with Dante in relation to Vergil, as with Vergil in relation to Homer, so MM represents “a higher consciousness.”

When Merrill finished The Changing Light at Sandover, I recommended that he re-title the poem, The Higher Keys.* Instead he used the title for a sub-section.

Like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which represents a key to the myths, legends and history of the Greeks and Romans, the Sentence also represents a “higher key.”


Take this all with a grain of salt and use it as you like.

As always,

*A work by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, which, had Merrill emphasized it, would have constituted not only a reference to her and an allusion to Yeats but also a triple pun: (1) Merrill had taken up a fourth (after Stonington, Athens and New York) residence in the Florida Keys; (2) He played the piano, whose higher keys you will know more about that I, but they suggest the higher register of his voice and poem; (3) the keys that Ephraim, Mirabell and Company provide for the reader. I find the Ouija-derived title that he used (or its abbreviation, Sandover — which Englishes Santa Fiori) rather weak.

(8) Jomtien, January 5, 2010

Dear Ron,

We turn now to Second,2, the “Odyssean” portion of a three-part book based upon Iliad, Odyssey and the final episode in Vergil’s life. Recently I enumerated the various trilogies in the Sentence, including not only sets of three books (such as Sleep, O and Light) but groupings among stages of the epic (such as HERA, APHRODITE and EL). There are also individual books, some already completed (Second, Divine and Or) that are tripartite, and there is one yet to be written, viz. Renewed, which will also have three sections. (It will treat Alexandria, as I imitate Apollonius’ Argonautica; the Nile, as I imitate Vergil’s Eclogues; and Cairo, as I imitate Mohammed’s Koran.)

In my previous email I had discussed a few aspects of Second,1, emphasizing here (as in an earlier email) the way in which I follow others in the tradition by expanding Homer’s frame. Not only Apollodorus but also Vergil elaborates upon Homer by including materials that precede the Iliad and follow it, thus drawing attention to the chronological and spatial narrowness of Homer’s skillful condensation. Homer of course famously addresses this problem himself by producing a second epic, the Odyssey, which stands to his first as the Bildungsroman to the tragic drama. I had suggested, in my previous email other ways in which I attempted, in Second,1, to overgo the Iliad.

In turning to Second,2’s relation to the Odyssey I find this subject too large for a single email. Today I will limit myself to a few episodes near the beginning, those set in Thrace and on Lesvos and Chios. Instead of producing a complete commentary, I will merely offer guidance for discerning the relation of these pages to Homer’s Odyssean plot, characters and themes. I begin with Alexandroupoli, not only the first setting but also the first word (Homer’s word is “Andros,” “Man,” which announces his theme, just as the Greek word for “Anger” announces his theme in the Iliad. (Vergil begins, “Arma virumque,” thereby indicating his double theme “War and Man,” i.e. Aeneas.)

Second,2, as Frank Stevenson notes (see his interest in Chaos and Cosmos), then picks up on “Chaos.” You might look at what he has to say on this head. I move, at the bottom of the first page, to Anaximander’s cosmogony (by way of Theophrastus’ history of early philosophy, emphasizing (with my quotation from Irwin of Simplicius) the theme of “nature, from which come into being the heavens and the worlds in them” (a concept remarkably similar to the Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi’s); this “source of coming-to-be” leads, it is said, to destruction caused by mutual retribution for “injustice according to the assessment of time.” Next I turn to Thales and others.

My general effort is to gain purchase on Homer by evoking Pre-Socratic and Classical Greek philosophy. (It was Plato who supplanted Homer for the Greeks.) Your hero Heraclitus also figures here, as do Xenophanes and Parmenides. I introduce pre-Homeric myth, at the other end of the chronological frame, and, as always, contemporary reality, shaped by Homeric mythos, or plot. Following Apollodorus, I include my idiosyncratic summary of the Odyssey in a first poem, my staid summary of an important myth in a second. Then I turn to legends associated with Lesvos, to Roman perspectives on Greece, before returning to Plato, Aristotle and his disciple Theophrastus.

I continue with early scientific thought, as proliferated by followers of Thales, notably Axanimander, Eratosthenes and Hecataeus. Then I deliberately quote the original English title of a Dutch book. In this the first section of the Lesvos material, I am adjudicating the claims of Mythology, Legend, Folklore, History, Archaeology, Philosophy and Literature. I set my scene (or it is set for me) during Karnivali. I liberally quote Socrates. But my main goal is a (for the most part subliminal, even subversive) commentary on the opening of the Odyssey, which is set in Ithaka and has as its theme Penelope’s and Telemakhos’ longing for Odysseus to return.

Rather than elaborate all this, I will turn now take up the third episode of Second,2, the one set on Chios, which most agree was the birthplace of Homer. I might, however, first make a general comment about my practice in Second, Happening and later books. Earlier you had said, in a most gratifying comment, that MM “could do no wrong in Realization and Engendering.” At the time I countered to the effect that the ironic, sympathetic or neutral insertion of famous Indic and Chinese texts into scenes of contemporary Americana was a relative simple technique. What I am doing in Second, whose composition followed that of the above books, is much more complicated.

In Happening, Second and Possibly (as yet unfinished), I have enlarged my primary canvas and secondary texts to include the Past (see my treatment of Ancient, Medieval, and Colonial as well as Contemporary India in Happening) and the Future (see my treatment of South America’s relation to Iberia in Possibly). Second further enlarges this process by bringing into the narrative the History of Philosophy, of Epic and of History itself (historiography). I have also treated the original template much more freely. My own text invites a consideration of the relation of its elements to the corresponding elements in Homer (here the first two scenes of Second,2 to his Telemakhiad).

In Ulysses Joyce handles the relationship between the Odyssey and his Dublin in a mostly ironic way. Second’s view of Homer is never ironic. Joyce was knowledgeable about Homer; but, unlike Joyce, I taught Homer for 40 years (Joyce was 37 when he published Ulysses). During most of these years of teaching him I assiduously studied Homer’s relation to Hesiod and the Attic dramatists (among the Greeks), to Vergil and Ovid (among the Romans), to Dante, Ariosto and Tasso (among the Italians) and to Spenser, Milton, Blake and Whitman (among English-speaking writers). As you note, erudition is not the key to literary success, and my success will be judged by others.

Let us, then, return to Chios. Whereas Homer explicitly introduces Odysseus in Book 5 (he “discovers” him tiring of Kalypso on Ogygia), I introduce him much more obliquely. At the outset I quote a Greek authority on Chios, then turn to myth. Next I return to take up the great scholars and philosophers who had lived on or visited the island. Homer is antique, but a far greater natural antiquity has been documented on Chios (I cite authorities, all the while continuing the mythic narrative). Like a philologist, I offer evidence for various derivations of the name “Chios.” Then I insert the third of my “Ten Poems from Second,” this one concerned with the visionary Don Quixote.

Like the Pope, who figures later, like Odysseus, like MM, D.Q. is a figure of Optimism. The episode that I recount, from Part II of Cervantes’ masterpiece, is not only central but fundamentally Homeric. Anyway, from here we turn to satisfy modern curiosity about the historical Homer. So I set out to visit the Daskalopetra, on the way having a chance (i.e. lucky) conversation with a learned, if eccentric, Greek scholar. This encounter, which bears scrutiny for its relation to the rest of my “Odyssey” is one of the jewels that turned up as I spaded my hoard for Second,2. Into the interview I interweave Herodotus’s Life of Homer. Afterwards I return to the authority of Maria S. Fafalios.

Homer, in the Odyssey, reflects the landscape of the Aegean. As I approach the Daskalopetra I discern in the landscape a reflection of Homer (and Vergil), these images echoing the account of Chios’ geological history. History and Geography, Biography and Autobiography are intermingled with more mythology and nature description. After I complete my visit to the Daskalopetra, I insert a brief account of Homeric Archaeology (likened to “a descending, empty construction truck”). There follows a tiring Odyssey of my own, by bus to Mesta (like Odysseus’s sociable outward voyage to Troy), from which I (like Odysseus, mostly alone) return on foot via Pirgi and Olimpi, to Chios’ capital.

The object of this quest is Byzantine Greece, but throughout its later stages I am shadowed by the Christian Pope, who, again fortuitously, the week of this Odyssey-Pilgrimage of mine was conducting what Time magazine describes as both an “Odyssey” and a “Pilgrimage” of his to Egypt and the Holy Land. This report, incidentally, serves to connect Second,2 with Every, for the Pope celebrates in situ both the Old Testament and the New Testament gods. (I introduce Zeus as a counter-balance.) There is much description of Greek artistry in the episode but also much description of nature. During my “travail,” as you call it, I grow weary, as do the Pope, O., and perhaps the reader.

Again, this seems (more than?) enough for one email.

All best,

(9) Jomtien, January 7, 2010

Dear Ron,

I continue, now, with my commentary on Second,2, resuming where I had left off in commentating the Alexandroupoli, Lesvos and Chios episodes. After Chios we head to Samos, which I treat as a version of Skheria. This is the first but not the last time that I will place an Homeric island in a position different from where it occurs in the itinerary of Odysseus. Samos struck me as so ideal that I could only compare it to the paradisal island, also known as Phaiakia, where Odysseus encounters Nausikaa, the daughter of Alkinoos and Arete. While still aboard ship, however, I also meet a woman, named Kalliope (the muse of epic poetry), who regards her true identity as that of Penelope.

This introduces into the Samos episode the Homeric theme of true and false identities. Throughout the Odyssey, of course, Odysseus frequently misrepresents who he really is. By way of imitation, on my travels throughout the Aegean, I half comically misrepresented myself as Odysseus, just as, semi-seriously, I am now representing myself as a second Homer. Misrepresentation and substitution are related to the theme of transformation, as exemplified in the Kirke episode, where Odysseus’ men were turned into swine. Immediately upon my arrival in Samos an eighteen-year-old Nausikaa glances at me; soon thereafter I engage a 26-year-old Nausikaa in conversation.

She raises the question of true and false identities. This second Nausikaa says, “We modern Greeks have no identity; we have been invaded by American culture,” a universal complaint. The modern Greeks are not Greek to begin with, since they belong to another race from that of Homer and Plato. Next I return to ancient philosophers, to Epicurus and Democritus, finally to Pythagoras, whose important views (I enumerate notable doctrines with bullets before them) were formulated on the island of Samos. In summary of my quotations from the pre-scientific thought of early Greek philosophy I mention Anaximenes, for whom fire becomes air becomes water becomes stones.

My trip to the ruined temple of Hera and back is controlled by interweaving an account of contemporary Greek marriage rituals and ancient views of the myth of Hera, in a modern Greek’s summary. Menelaos Stephanides presents the idealist view of marriage, which is charming (and appropriate to Hera, the goddess of marriage), but the attentive reader will note (a) Odysseus’s separation from Penelope, even the tradition of her infidelity during this interval; (b) the parallel of Helen’s perfidy; as well as (c) the unrealistic fantasy that Odysseus might have married Nausikaa. The chapter ends not with Hera but with Artemis’ stone “tits” and Aphrodite’s amorous ambivalence.

I travel on: to Agathonisi, Patmos, Lipsi, Leros and Kalymnos, referring to other islands for which these islands substitute. I quote an account of St. Paul’s visits to Patmos, where he composed Revelation (a text missing from Every). Here pigs that we observe remind us that Circe had transformed Odysseus’ men into swine, on an island (again by substitution) that we have visited. MM’s deep sleep during this portion of his travel stands for Odysseus’s deep sleep during his magical passage from Scheria to Ithaca. I introduce Poseidon by way of substituting for the missing Homeric Cyclops episode; I refer to Scylla and Charybdis, another omitted Homeric episode.

“Have we landed on Ithaka?” I ask, as we make landfall on Kos. For the modern Greekless traveler (despite his maps), as for Odysseus, the identity of new islands is not always certain. Here, though, Ithaka is being treated as an ultimate goal. On Kos I will represent an Ithakan encounter of Odysseus’. I deliberately chose not to visit the modern Ithaka, partly because there is nothing much to see there, partly because modern scholars have determined that Kefallonia is a likelier candidate, in modern Greece, for the Ithaka of Homer’s Odyssey. The islands in Homer are states of mind, allegorical topoi; some are actual, some imagined places.

Our experience of new places has much to do with our expectations. Kos was associated with Athena. Experience very quickly teaches this modern traveler that Kos “is not the realm of Athena but of Aphrodite.” By luck I encounter the owner of a shop who has entertained modern Greek Aphrodites: Miss Greece, Miss Kos and the gorgeous Swedish, Austrian, Finnish and Australian girls who have visited his shop and there been photographed. The dusk outing that follows is one of the best passages, I think, in Second,2. Note here nymphs and Fates, gods/goddesses not prominent in Homer: Argos, Flora, Hestia and Elvis; likewise heroines and heroes such as Medusa and Midas.

After experiencing contemporary evidence that Homer and Odysseus are “still alive,” I set out on another “Odyssey” to the island’s interior, as I had on Lesvos and Chios. My outward voyage I suppress, as Homer does Odysseus’, in favor of an interest in his nostos. During my return, to Kos’s capital, I quote from Homer’s account of the end of Odysseus’ nostos, on Ithaka. Not sure where he has arrived, he questions a young boy (as I do here); in Homer the boy is Athena in disguise. A map serves as my guide, augmented by my experience: at the age of 60 I had traveled more widely than Odysseus had by 40, though here he too (as MM will) recounts an earlier expedition to Egypt.

Visitors to Egypt include Odysseus, Menelaos and Helen, but also the contemporary Pope, the account of whose travels I resume, thus linking Homeric Egypt and Biblical Jerusalem. Paul is re-introduced, then Alexander (who had conquered Egypt in the Homeric guise of Achilles as well as Odysseus). Once back in the capital we visit a museum of classical antiquities, a scholar’s touristic experience that complements my rereading of Homer while on assignment. Finally, in a rather dry passage, set in the medieval Kastro, as the intertext inches toward Reunion on Ithaka, I introduce Athenian materials that will be actualized in the Athens of “A Farewell to Greece.”

(10) Jomtien, January 9, 2010

Dear Ron,

Whereas other books in the HERMES and ARES sequences may be enjoyed by dipping in and reading a few pages, Second requires more serious attention. Like Happening, it is best read entire. (I have read the latter half a dozen times preparing it for publication.) I am concerned that not many people have yet read either book from cover to cover. A pity, for the full force of my “epic of India,” which synopsizes Ramayana and recapitulates (in reverse) the chapter headings of Mahabharata, is not felt by reading only one of its fourteen individual sections. Granted, it is a lot to expect of the reader that she sit still through Second,1, 2 and 3, but this is what is required.

An avoidance of the requirement may be achieved by perusing my treatment of Rhodes, which braids together many earlier strands in Second,2, in the whole of Second, and in Greek civilization. This section includes the romantic recognition scene between Odysseus and Penelope, but all 20 pages, much more. It is one of three chapters that treat Ithaka under another head. Here I limit myself to pointing out juxtapositions. As we arrive at Rhodes, on a journey that has included many landfalls, I interweave a passage from Plato’s Republic, one that emphasizes a dangerous problem in governing the body politic by recourse to a metaphor of a ship’s crew’s relation to its pilot.

The analogy with Ithaka in the absence of Odysseus is palpable. To make it more so and to heighten the horrific impact I introduce Apollodorus’ list of all 108 suitors, an extravagant rhetorical strategy, comparable to the Iliad’s “catalogue of ships.” The suitor’s unruly energy I transfer to the crowd on the Rhodian dock, which has been waiting three days for the ship to arrive. After situating myself in hard-to-find lodgings, the next morning I set out into the streets of the capital, my narrative interwoven with Aristotle’s meditation on the City as a means of achieving happiness. (The telos, or goal, of the Rhodian chapter, as with the Odyssey, is the re-achievement of happiness.)

Interrupting the description of a parade organized to celebrate the union of the Dodecanese, I combine passages from a modern prose synopsis of the Odyssey and from Apollodorus, who brings together the beginning (at Aulis) and the end (on Ithaka) of Homer’s saga. Apollodorus also touches upon the Thrinakia (or Kine of Helios) episode and the Scylla and Charybdis episode, both premonitory emblems of destruction. Herakles, the greatest Greek hero, is introduced. We turn to Odysseus and Penelope on Ithaka, as Homer slowly prepares for the slaughter of the suitors. There follows, in only apparent non sequitur, the story of Aphrodite, Adonis and his feral opponent.

Next, amidst much local description, inspired by a bar’s sign (“Medea’s Ingle”), I summarize, in Apollodorus’ words again, the story of the Argonauts. The story of Adonis, nearly complete, concludes in juxtaposition with an account of Easter on the island of Nisyros. (Just as Jason and Odysseus are correlated, so are Christ and Adonis.) There follow several pages of history (as though to right an imbalance between mythic and historical materials), about the Byzantines and Franks on Rhodes, the Venetians and Turks. I then include the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Labyrinth. A conversation regarding Hera and Herakles, her son, ensues, with a woman who resembles Hera.

Here we return to Theseus as he captures the Minotaur. Rhodes is a labyrinth (cf. the Cretans, who had ruled the island) of medieval streets and historical complications. Many cultures and myths converge. I pause, during late evening, in a quiescent medieval square, where I introduce the history of the medieval Ottoman presence. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem built most of Rhodes’s ramparts to keep out the Turks. Come morning, we stroll up Socrates Street, returning, in an intertext, to Homer’s Book 23, as we head toward Alexandria Square. We are about to set out for Lindos, Rhodes’s second city. Homer recounts in detail Odysseus and Penelope’s reunion, and we are off.

Along the road to Lindos we pick up school kids whose “nostos,” like Odysseus’, has been delayed (in their case by a school bus an hour late). We return to stories of Herakles, as author mounts toward the summit of the Lindos acropolis. Hera attacked, Herakles kills the attacker. Apollo shoots an opponent with arrows. (We note here the parallel with Odysseus’ slaughter of the suitors in a display of archery necessary for his revenge, an eventuality delayed in the narrative of Second,2 till we reach Patras.) Athena is represented in battle against Encelados. Hermes kills Hippolytus. Odysseus, in summarizing his adventures, glances at the Cyclops. Artemis kills Gration. Etc.

Finally author arrives at the Temple of Athena, on Lindos’ acropolis, only to find that it is too late in the day to enter. He climbs farther, until he has reached another sort of wisdom — a wall face — the wisdom of limits. Meanwhile Odysseus reaches the end of his account of his adventures (which in the Odyssey, for Penelope’s audition, required of him 24 hours, as the gods held time still). Notable, by contrast to author’s suppression of outward voyages on Lesvos, Chios and Samos (in favor of nostoi), is his suppression of his own “nostos” from Lindos. Homer had done the same with Telemachos, to give alacrity to his narrative and to his young hero’s development.

As always,

(11) Jomtien, January 11, 2010

Dear Ron,

It appears that it will take me five emails to offer the essential assistance that you may require in dealing with Second,2. Today’s email covers Telemachos’ return from Sparta to the suburbs of Patras and includes his excursion to Mystras (before he departs from Sparta) and his experience of Pylos and Pyrgos. The fifth and final email will cover the remaining pages of my “Odyssey.” I had dealt with Second,1, at least to my satisfaction, in a single email. Perhaps I can do the same with Second,3, perhaps not. After you have digested all this material and applied it to the texts, let me know.

To begin, in Sparta, with obvious facts: Telemachos (the son of Odysseus) and Peisistratos (the son of Nestor, of Pylos, which Telemachos has already visited), I introduce together at the Palace of Menelaos, amidst much historical background and description of the contemporary city that I myself am here visiting. At the café called “Australia,” run by overseas Greeks who have returned to Greece, I am treated as a kind of returning Menelaos. In amongst my story, Homer’s Menelaos and Helen offer, for the two young men’s benefit, their individual memories of Odysseus’s exploits.

Of interest is Helen’s Trojan reminiscence of Odysseus as a spy in the enemy camp, where she had observed him despite his disguise as a beggar. (Penelope, another perspicuous woman, will also intuit Odysseus beneath his beggarly disguise, in Ithaka.) Menelaos tells Telemachos and Peisistratos how Odysseus had devised the strategy of the Trojan Horse. I talked earlier about true and false identities: they are now coming to focus in the person and personae of the fabled Odysseus, as they will before long in the actual Odysseus. Telemachos, who lives in the present, asks for news.

His solo expedition to Mystras is an exercise in education but also a vehicle for other matters. As a prelude to examining a Byzantine site (once confused with Sparta), I reflect upon past and present, antiquity and later ages, art, science and myth, the development from Platonism to Neo-Platonism. The Old Man of the Sea, Proteus, who is Transformation Itself, appears. (Menelaos had encountered him in Egypt.) MM in part has assumed the identity of Telemachos. Ajax, Agamemnon and Odysseus appear, re-embodied both in three workmen and in Thales, Heracleitus and Pythagoras.

Augustine calls Truth “a new universal category,” a remark relevant to Homer’s allegory (and its allegoresis). Are Mystras and Sparta different or one in the same? Are Christianity and Greek religion different or similar? Are the Past and the Present all of a piece? At this point I insert my two poems on Goethe’s Faust, Parts I and II. We are reminded that he had called Mystras “the union of classical beauty (Helen) and Christian chivalry.” We end with the ghost of Antikleia addressing her son, Odysseus (this from the Nekuyia in Book 9). If past and present are not of a piece, how can she do this?

After Telemachos returns to Sparta, he and Peisistratos set out to return from Sparta to Pylos. Homer had recorded T.’s departure from Ithaka, and his progress from Pylos to Sparta, but I again choose to cover the nostos, which Homer suppresses, until, that is, T. turns up at Eumaios’ hut. Various texts in analysis of Ionic and modern Greek culture follow, texts that a modern Telemachos might study in college as preparation for leadership. Is this elitist? Are Harvard’s and Yale’s sons and daughters all elitists? (The Roosevelts were among the greatest populists in the whole of American history.)

Or does it make sense that the world’s principal democracy draws its leaders from Harvard (the Kennedys and the Obamas), Yale (the Clintons and the Bushes)? At any rate we turn next to the history of Greek Tourism, because MM, Telemachos and Peisistratos, even Odysseus, probably Homer, and certainly Herodotus were, after all, among the original tourists, but also because tourism is a form of education. (See here my introduction of many passages from Jaeger’s Paideia.) At Pylos we overhear a sprightly conversation among three people, MM and two English tourists, Neil and Zara.

They have been fancifully re-denominated “Telemachos,” “Theoclymenos” and “Athena,” partly to enliven the identities of the second and third figures. Together we three visit the Palace of Nestor. It becomes clear from the concluding remark of this section that MM is both an observer of Telemachos and Telemachos Himself. This is quite a different strategy from Joyce’s, whereby Telemachos merely shadows Stephen and Odysseus, Bloom. In the course of what follows, MM re-embodies both T. and O. (as “MM-Telemachos” and “MM-Odysseus”) yet also remains aloof from them.

The Pyrgos sub-episode (as we near Patras) substitutes for the Homeric episode in Eumaios’ hut on Ithaka, wherein Telemachos encounters his father, first in disguise, then revealed by Athena, then re-disguised. The Dostoevsky poem — ninth of the “Ten Poems from Second” — emphasizes “the irrational basis of the universe,” as does the Odyssean scene transpiring around it. I delay comment on the final pages of Second,2 till another email but wish to draw attention to its opening paragraphs, which provide a theoretical basis for understanding my general approach to Past, Present and Future.

(12) Jomtien, January 13, 2020

Dear Ron,

We turn now to the final episode in Second,2, whose first two paragraphs I had already drawn to your attention. As soon as I arrive in Patras by train from Pyrgos, I purchase my “on-going ferry ticket to Italy.” Like Odysseus, MM will not remain forever in his Ithaka (Patras) but will also travel westward. One should note, however, an advertisement, “GREECE-ITALY-GREECE,” which describes the ferry’s return as well. Greek culture will make its outward voyage to Italy but will eventually return to Greece. Problematic is how it will co-exist with other cultures arrived from elsewhere.

With the underlined sentence, “Telemachos has returned,” begins a deliberate fictionalization of the Homeric episode in modern dress, which I intend as a parody of the novel. The man “in rags, bandana and Nike running shoes” is, of course, Odysseus, his companions at table Telemachos (dressed in black) and his two loyal servants, the goatherd and the swineherd. In the paragraphs that follow I begin now to combine (a) Lattimore’s English translation of Homer, (b) a prose paraphrase in English by a modern Greek scholar and (c) my own elaboration in English of details for the episode.

I re-introduce an account of St. Paul’s travels, so as to create a parallel with Odysseus’ travels. Note that the Pauline material also extends my treatment in Every of The New Testament (Every Second is a diptych). Paul here is represented as penetrating to the very heart of Greek civilization, classical Athens, where he addresses its politicians and citizens with the aim of converting them to his novel doctrines. There is a parallel with Odysseus’ penetration into the sanctuary of his own palace, where he seeks to convince by a very different sort of rhetoric and action another set of recalcitrants.

My quotations from Jaeger’s Paideia run throughout the early pages of this episode, but I eventually resume quotation of Apollodorus, beginning with his treatment of Athene. Quotations about Athenian civilization are intermingled with quotations from a book about St. Paul’s journeys. I return to Irwin, this time quoting remarks about politics in classical Athens and Sparta; then I introduce passages from Thucydides. These play off against the guidebook and against Herodotus, who increasingly provides a counter-burden to my quotations from the modern paraphrase of the Odyssey.

After more such interplay, I return to Jaeger, interrupting him to insert the tenth of my “Ten Poems from Second.” Its final sentence, “Thus / The unity of the two poems is argued,” stitches Homer’s world together (See Denis Mizzi’s cover illustration). Jaeger, meanwhile, has taken to generalizing about the epic: “An increasing pleasure in the mastery of great masses of material characterizes the last stage in the development of epic poetry among other nations as well as the Greeks,” he says. One thinks of Mahabharata but perhaps also of Sentence of the Gods.

Criticism of the epic has begun to occur within the epic itself, at least within the confines of mine. Jaeger generalizes about Homer’s achievement, placing it in other epic and cultural contexts. Herodotus he adduces as parallel with Homer but also as his philosophical superior. Jaeger defends poetry against philosophy, as Plato had so famously chosen not to. “The divine will, which governs [Homer’s] story,” says Jaeger, “and at last brings it to a just and happy conclusion, appears in a natural way, always consistent with its own omnipotence, to resolve the narrative crises.

He argues that Homer’s epic is sacred, that his poetry is religious and that it offers to us a kind of divine guidance. Were we not of two minds about Jaeger’s argument, Homer might not have survived a secular readership, certainly not a readership opposed to its religious beliefs as pagan. (Samuel Johnson placed the Iliad above Paradise Lost.) I adduce Aristotle’s authority: “Demonstrative knowledge must be derived from things that are true, primary, immediate, better known than, prior to and explanatory of the conclusion, for in this case the principles are proper to what is being proved.

Some readers are religiously inclined, some philosophically, some neither. My “Odyssey,” Second,2, concludes not in the voice of Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides or Aristotle, not with Paul entering Athens, not in the ubiquitous voice of The Lonely Planet with its generalizations about Athens’ influence on Rome, but rather in my own voice, as I descend from the heights of Patras-Ithaka, pausing before a department store window, where I observe “a duckling raising its head out of a red half shell,” “next to which a two-dimensional bunny in artificial grass, a real hat perched atop his vertical ears.”

All best,

(13) Jomtien, January 15, 2010

Dear Ron,

We now arrive at Second,3, the section concerned principally with the final episode in Vergil’s life but also with a good deal more (notably, in the occult narrative, the transport of Vergil’s body from Brundisium to Naples and my ascent, accompanied by his Soul, of Vesuvius, at whose summit I release him into the Heavens). I treat many other famous Roman figures, including its greatest poets and its greatest politicians.

I will try to keep my commentary brief, limiting my remarks, as with Second,1, to a single email. Please ask, should you require elaboration. We might note at the outset that the original 45 pages of Second,3 is the same number as the 45 pages of Second,1. Also, that Dante, as well as Vergil, appears in this section, quite often by allusion to his Comedy. (We visit Avernus, climb a mountain and reach Paradise.)

To revert, however, to the classical epic: There are many different developments out of Homer, Vergil representing only a single historical line. (Should this subject interest you, Brooks Otis summarizes the 400 years of Roman epic in imitation of Homer that precede Vergil.) At the outset of Second,3 I emphasize the line from Lucretius to Vergil to his medieval Christian imitator, Girolamo Vida, who overwrites the Aeneid.

Much of what follows in my commentary will not be strictly relevant to your topic, “The Sentence as Homeric.” I offer these remarks, instead, to help you understand Second,3 and to reduce the amount of reading required to do so. Most relevant, perhaps, is that both Vergil and MM are transforming Homer by rendering him “subjectively.” Subjectivity is a large subject; Vergil’s “subjective style” is also defined by Otis.

Briefly: I turn the third person singular of Richard Jenkyn’s masterful study, Vergil’s Experience, into a first person singular, thereby merging myself with Vergil. I also quote extensively from Peter Levi’s fascinating biography of Vergil, but in my quotations from him Vergil remains in the third person. On page 9 I turn to Everitt’s biography of Cicero, who in turn includes “biographies” of Caesar, Cleopatra, et al.

First, however, I become one with Vergil. As a poet of the Future it is appropriate that Vergil observe present day Naples, where he had spent most of his past life. (Vergil frequented Rome, but he did not live in Rome.) MM and his host, “Professor Fidelio,” travel to Cumae, where Aeneas had met the Sibyl. Together we see Avernus, the first Dantesque topos. (I leave it to you to discern other Dantesque references.)

For clarity’s sake I might, however, give you a simplified rubric of the relations among what we moderns sometimes regard as the three greatest western poets in relation to one another, to wit: Dante : Vergil :: Vergil : Homer. (The Middle Ages knew Homer only by reputation, and during subsequent ages Europe often lost sight of Dante. In the 19th century, and of course for the Modernists, he returns with a vengeance.)

On my second outing I tour official Naples, interweaving quotations from the biography of Cicero, himself an early “tourist.” Dante nominates himself as Vergil’s guide. My strategy: undo Dante’s strategy in making Vergil his guide. “The Mantuan feels a little disconcerted,” I observe, “with the Florentine at his side.” Vergil, not Dante (despite his elevation in modern times), is still the greatest poet in our tradition.

When Servius associates an image with the Aeneid (one which has nothing to do with it), we reach the apex of Vergil’s historical influence (Servius was among Vergil’s most original and influential allegorists). During these pages, in which I evoke so much history, I am exploring other objects of Vergil’s imitation, for example, Caesar and his wives (see Aeneas’ wives, Creusa and Dido), Marius and Sulla (see Turnus, et al).

“What does Dante help us understand about Virgil?” I ask (here Dante’s medieval spelling; the classical spelling is “Vergil.”) Why, historically, has Vergil been more influential than either Homer or Dante? “Virgil did not believe in the gods,” says Levi, “he simply picked through them, somewhat fastidiously.” This returns us to my earlier remark that Ovid, rather than Homer or Vergil, is my true model of “belief.”

History via Everitt’s biography of Cicero, and Naples via the popular account of the Fodor guide, are juxtaposed. What do these texts, one might ask, tell us of Vergil? A great deal. For Vergil’s real affiliations are not with Imperial but rather Republican Rome, which continues to manifest its traits in modern Naples. If the text of the Aeneid has not been exactly “popular,” Vergil’s conception of things nonetheless has been.

At last Vergil’s Soul and I begin our Herculean, seventeen-mile climb up the slopes of Vesuvius, setting out from Ercolano (the classical Herculaneum). To complicate matters I also begin my account of Mantua, where Vergil was born and spent his youth, as well as the ascent by Hannibal of the Alps. Lucan, one of Vergil’s followers in the political epic, is also introduced here (see Shelley’s high opinion of the Pharsalia).

Vergil’s reputation of course triumphs during the Renaissance, first in Italy, then throughout Europe. “The Palazzo, we might almost say, is an homage to the spirit of Virgil” (one reason that we examine it in situ). As I remark, however, “Dante is more of a presence in Mantua than is the Mantuan.” (Note that the “S” of my Homeric/Vergilian Second in the emblem sits above the “D” of my Dantesque Divine in APHRODITE.)

This whole text, Second,3, you may find unsympathetic. (If so, please express your misgivings and I will try to defend it.) Or, you may find its complexities pleasing, its voicing “musical.” (If so, please elaborate yourself.) As for its “musicality,” however, this is a relentlessly written, not oral, text. (One would be hard pressed in reading it aloud to distinguish its various voices and preserve their identities.)

(14) Taipei, March 24, 2010

Dear Ron,

At the beginning of your omnibus email you say, The question, for me, is what you “believe.” Bluntly (as always here): To answer this question, I feel, would “fix” my position in a way that is not desirable. Like life, like the Cosmos, like Walt Whitman, I am in flux. If I had wanted to work from a fixed belief, I would be writing a work called The Sentence of God. Shortly thereafter you helpfully answer for me: No belief, no nothing, just what is. Yes, no belief, no nothing, but also, I would add, no “personality.” (You had graciously called mine “sunny” and “most Mozartian.”)

Robert Lowell, whom I studied with at Harvard, and who represents the American Establishment’s idea of a major poet, loved to talk about people who had what he called “a lot of personality.” Then, one evening in Greenwich Village, at an art opening, he had his comeuppance. Talking to a young woman painter about Rembrandt, Lowell said, “Rembrandt had a lot of personality.” Calmly she replied, “Rembrandt had no personality whatsoever. With his last brushstroke, as he finished a painting, his personality completely disappeared.” Rembrandt was a great artist; Robert Lowell was not.

I have never heard of “allegoresis” but I find it hard to separate from plain old “reading into.” To do so is, precisely, the task. The dull undergraduate protests that his professor is “reading something into” texts. No experienced reader would protest that Vergil is reading something into Homer. Vergil, in his misreading of Homer, is as witty as Callimachus and as profound as Apollonius. Oscar Wilde, Yeats reports, compared the young Irish poet, just arrived in London, to Homer, probably on the basis of having read “The Wanderings of Oisin.” All high literature is an allegoresis.

Anyone can prove that the first scene of Hamlet is actually about the 24 golden umbrellas of the King of Thailand. Anyone? I have not yet met such a wag in Thailand, though I did attend a marvelous performance of Scalieri staged as a lady-boy sit-com. London has reconstructed the Globe Theater, where I attended a dull performance of Marlowe’s Dido and Aeneas. Pattaya’s Alankarn Theater has a stage door large enough for elephants. I would love to see a version of Hamlet in which the Prince enters riding an allegorical elephant in a procession of 24 golden umbrellas.

If I do not demand that you [listen to] Beethoven’s Last Quartets — which you damn well better do if you know what’s good for you — why should I have to read Hesiod? (a) At Yale I took a year-long survey of (western) music history from a professor who, during the first summer that I was in Cambridge, offered a course as a visiting professor at Harvard on Beethoven’s Last Quartets. It met in Victorian Sanders Theater, where the acoustics are perfect. I audited the lectures. (By the way, I prefer the Grosse Fuge to the Quartets.) I have recently resumed concert-going in Bangkok.

(b) You say that my suggestion that you read Hesiod, whose Theogony and Works and Days I imitate in Her (one of the corner books, writing about which would simplify your task) smacks of Historicism. Hesiod is delightful. Somewhere in a long poem of his, as Kenneth Koch is searching for examples of those entertaining poets who are most worthy of emulation, he mentions “Homer, Hesiod and Shakespeare.” (I once told Kenneth that I was offering a course in “Homer, Shakespeare, Blake and Koch.” “Madison,” he said, “What’s Blake doing in there?”)

Everyone, you say, should read Homer, [who], you say [as I did], is the foundation of (western?) thought. I see nothing wrong with expecting that an educated person will have read Homer and Plato, but I did not choose to quote Homer and Plato in Second because they represent the foundations of western thought. Homer is not someone whom one “should” read; one reads him rather for the same reasons that one listens to Beethoven or looks at Rembrandt. They are all magnificent artists, whom it would be silly not to read, listen to, or look at.

All best,

(15) Taipei, April 7, 2010

Dear Ron,

I return to commentating your segmented email of January 11 (and subsequent dates). Most of your remarks in the central section I am either in agreement with or they do not seem to require much comment. So I will resume at the end of this section with an answer to your question, Is the Sentence a bildungsroman? Permit me, if you will, to begin somewhat indirectly: Although one might ask Joyce why he included so much arcana in the Wake (when it renders his work obscure), one cannot ask that Vergil, Dante or Spenser be less learned, since their aim is to preserve knowledge common to our tradition. Again, the Sentence is not a work of fiction, not a bildungsroman but a universal epic; as such it must be encyclopedic. Though it may include personal elements (see Magic), it cannot be defined by such a personal theme as Bildung.

Have you become fed up with, had your fill of, the Present? Since earlier, as you note, I had become dissatisfied with “Surrealism,” as you have called an irrational element in my early work, this is a valid question. Part of your misunderstanding, like that of other critics, however, lies in the notion that the Sentence is merely devoted to actuality, which is only one non-Aristotelian element characteristic of it. This is one reason why I wrote “Homer Past and Present,” which I had sent you a copy of. Take a look at its opening paragraph again. To be very candid, I will confess that I am a little tired of the in situ method, but it has become “what I do” and so I find it difficult, especially at this age, to invent another modus operandi. I thought that in Possibly I might be able to invent another, but I have not yet succeeded in doing so.

Is the Sentence a narrative of salvation, redemption, through the East? I was just in Berkeley, where every other storefront still bears the mark of the sixties: Nepalese Embroidery, Aryuveda Meditation, Tantric Accessories. Though related to this quest for another world of truth, my work does not share these hippie affiliations. The greatest civilization that the world has ever known was the Egyptian, the foundation of all subsequent western cultures. In my view the Indic, the Greek and the Chinese follow in order of importance. Though the Greek is truly strange, it is no longer exotic for us. Nor are the Indic and the Chinese, which we have become so familiar with generally. We know all these civilizations principally through their cultural nachlass. “For better or worse,” as I said to the lyric poet Cid Corman, “I am a cultural writer.”

In other words, though the title of my epic is Sentence of the Gods, and in a sense the work may be regarded as “sacred,” I am not a doctrinal writer, certainly not a writer aiming at “salvation” or “redemption.” You are fundamentally religious, specifically Christian, so these terms roll naturally off your lips. I am emphatically not a Christian and no longer see myself as a Hindu either. Contemporary taste prefers multi-cultural apocalypse (Allen Ginsberg was a Blakean Buddhist Jeremiah). The most popular American poet of the 17th century was Michael Wigglesworth; his Day of Doom was a best seller. Ginsberg’s Fall of America is equivalent in genre. Though I have my own views about the rise and fall of civilizations, they are not a part of an eschatology embodied in the Sentence, which instead retains a descriptive neutrality.

I pass over your following paragraphs, noting your interests and questions. The latter include the question of the purpose of the Sentence, which I would prefer not to answer. A related question is where Sunnyvale “is going.” In other words, what is its purpose? Richard once asked, with reference to Her, whose genre I had described as “epic sonnets,” “What is an epic sonnet?” “An ‘epic sonnet,’” I replied, “is a sonnet that occurs within an epic.” Sunnyvale (like California, the USA and the Universe) is not so much “going somewhere” as taking its place within an epic. Keith Walker, who expressses his appreciation of the work, asked a similar question. He can be forgiven for not placing Sunnyvale within its epic context. You and Richard cannot. How could anything so diverse as my life-work, the Sentence, be limited to a single purpose?

These questions of yours confirm my view that you are less an imaginative writer than an “idea man,” which is to say a critic. (Criticism is a branch of philosophy.) This is why you and Richard have so much in common. Now for the good side of being an “idea man.” You ask, Does the Sentence somehow attain and epically swallow all historical consciousness with Every thing and No thing, their being — appropriately from their titles and nature, a palindrome diptych on which the entire Sentence pivots — like a well-oiled swinging saloon door? Yes, the Sentence pivots here, on either side of Second; as a gifted critic, you have shown me how to express this in a critical metaphor. I see now that my use of the term “cultural center” for the book had served merely propadeutic, practical purposes.

You have also, I note, begun your mediation upon the words “each” and “every.” (The Chinese language does not distinguish between the two.) I regard these titles and their texts as importantly opposed, the former representing the Via Negativa, the latter, the Via Positiva, with the qualification that, in my view, the negative is the positive and vice-versa. The two books might be regarded as the two sides of your saloon door. Second, to elaborate your metaphor, might, then, be the big, clunky hinge that supports the two fragile sides of a thin panel. Or perhaps there are two saloon doors, which one pushes aside together, entering and exiting between them. Now we are getting somewhere. I leave it to you to relate all this to the Bible and to Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique, to the Classics and to the Surreal Extreme.

A little further on you say, Second,2 is a poem, which leads me to assert that each of the 26 books is a poem, an avant-garde poem. I cannot thank you enough for this. Yes, Sentence of the Gods is an epic poem, and you are the first critic to have said this. One can so focus on the Sentence as a whole, you say, that one loses sight of the individual book, which is also autonomous (Particular and Universal?). Precisely. Now comes another insight, in which you observe that the alternation of fonts in Second is something far beyond the plain back-and-forth of Realization into a . . . brain-punchy mosaic, a woven tapestry, a crazy quilt. (In Homer both Penelope and Helen are weaving designs.) You continue to remark upon more differences between Realization and Second, all which I heartily endorse.

Artist, philosopher, religious Seeker?

Does the work have a purpose?

(16) Taipei, April 9, 2010

Dear Ron,

To continue with my commentary on your email of January 11 et seq.: You raise the question of my treatment of Vergil. Here it might be helpful to take a look at Divine,2,3 and Epilogue, where I treat his Georgics through quotation, and the end of Divine,1, where I recapitulate the Aeneid (I will take up the text of his Eclogues in the Nilotic section of Renewed). Yes, I am a devotee of the Mantuan, on a pilgrimage to meet him in Second,3, before he dies. I am not so much walking in his footsteps as re-creating them. Like Vergil (who was returning from Greece a fourth time) I am “returning to” Brindisi (actually arriving for the first time, from Patras).

In the occult text of Second,3 I accompany Vergil’s corpse back to Naples, where he had lived (and is buried), then up the slope of Vesuvius (seventeen miles from Herculaneum to the summit), accompanying his Spirit, which, at the lip of the volcano, I release into the heavens. Vesuvius, in the allegory, serves as Dante’s Mt. Purgatory. (Earlier in Second,3 I had stood by a perfectly round lake, which I take to be his Avernus.) In addition to Vergil, Dante and MM, there are of course other implicit triads here: Homer, Vergil and Dante, Homer, Vergil and MM. Second,3 draws much of this together and looks forward to Her, where Hesiod is the dominant figure.

An important point to make, and one that you make explicitly when you speak of our shared Neoclassicism, is the difference between, say, Homer, Hesiod and Vergil, and later treatments of Homer, Hesiod and Vergil. You speak of Balanced Wisdom. The merging of the great classical figures that occurs, say, in Milton, Racine and Goethe is a case in point. I am in their tradition as much as in the tradition of Homer, Hesiod and Vergil. Whether I am on the road to Surrealist Ecstasy I will leave to you. As you note, there is much more of the classical world in Second than you have mentioned: Cicero and Lucretius; Aristotle and Plato; the pre-Socratics; sculptors and architects.

The reader must remind himself that when you are in Naples you are in Naples; for the nonce. This is an important point, if only because it makes Sentence of the Gods unique in time and space. (Until another ambitious writer travels to and describes 73 countries, the Sentence will not be superseded.) We are looking at a diorama, you say; we move on to the next room. You have settled, I think, upon an apposite metaphor. The diorama belongs to the historical museum, to the museum of natural history, but also to various popular, specialized museums. It serves to lift the Sentence out of the category of, or analogy with, the fine arts museum.

Note that James Merrill, in speaking of SOLUNA: Collected Earlier Poems, used a similar metaphor: the “binocular museum.” He was citing of course the idea of SOL and LUNA, the doubly ocular vision of Sun and Moon characteristic of many gods: Thoth and Hermes, Vishnu and Shiva, all said to have had the Sun for one eye, the Moon for the other. This binocular vision, then later applies to HERMES as well as SOLUNA. I also like your reversion here to your father’s stack of National Geographics; as a kid, I pored over my grandmother’s stack. You add, of these to us very familiar publications, that their collective circumference is mysterious and unknowable. Yes.

The new theory of Multiple Self-Replicating Universes seems to fit the Sentence to a T, unlike String Theory, which you erroneously said had 26 dimensions (there are, they tell us, eleven). When long ago I mentioned 26 dimensions I was merely quoting contemporary scientific authority; since then, the figure has been revised downward to, some say, eleven, some, ten. In fact Greek cosmology, classical relativity, quantum mechanics and M theory are all relevant to the Sentence. The new universe that we inhabit (if we cannot yet fully observe it) is not only self-propagating but expansionary. like my final book, Life.

(17) Taipei, April 14, 2010

Dear Ron,

I now take up the final pages of your extraordinary email of January 11. You say, One must read the in situ works slowly, sounding them in your head, as one does with poetry, as I did with The Catalogue of Ships, as I did in bed on a warm summer night in my room in a Texas hotel. The most precious thing that we have is the world of actuality, or in literary terms the lists of things that actually exist. Imagine deafness; imagine blindness. What would I do if I lost my notebooks or my in situ tapes of Egypt and Spain? Anyone can imagine Egypt or Spain. Only God can create them. Incidentally, before I forget to answer, you have asked me what my astrological sign is. I was born on June 28, which I understand makes me a double Cancer.

To return to commentary. Is the Iliad, you ask, simply encyclopedic? You are beginning to understand. The Iliad is not a novel; the Sentence is not a bildungsroman (though your working title may be The Sentence of Madison Morrison, one that you can later revise). Instead Homer and MM are encyclopedic. They are authors of universal epics. I have tried to put as much of Asia Minor into Second,1, as much of Homeric, pre-Socratic, classical and modern Greece into Second,2 as I can without interfering in the drama of the Iliad or the inimitable adventures of Odysseus. What I have done is both a simulacrum of Homer and an extension of Homer. Though related to Pound’s Cantos and Joyce’s Ulysses, my Iliad and Odyssey are much more ambitious.

You might find Howard Clarke’s book about the history of Homeric interpretation useful. I wrote to him after I had read Homer’s Readers and subsequently corresponded with Howard for years. Another staggering book, massive in its erudition, is Paul Friedrich’s The Meaning of Aphrodite (you might be reading it as you take up All and Excelling, in APHRODITE). I also corresponded with Paul for many years: he was an anthropologist at Chicago, a Russian linguist, a man of many other, varied interests. You ask about Homer’s values. James Redfield’s Nature and Culture in the “Iliad” (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1975) is the locus classicus. But here see Nagy too: Most important is not Homer’s belief in, but rather his ritual enactment of, the gods.

The attempt to know Homer, the man, rather than his works, is futile. We know almost nothing of his biography apart from what Herodotus tells us (see my interview with the scholar on Chios). We only really know the texts. Redfield extrapolates from the Iliad a series of cultural assumptions, Homer’s beliefs, his values, and then reapplies them to the texts. So his resulting enquiry is circular. We know quite a bit about physical culture in the Bronze Age, i.e., Mycenaean Greece (which I have studied both on site in the Peloponnisos and in many books), but what the archaeological record reveals is by and large conjectural. Nonetheless I rely upon, and incorporate, interesting passages that I found in Hammond ― for their effect as well as for their truth value.

All best,