Madison Morrison's Web / Sentence of the Gods / On Naming Epics

On Naming Epics

The strongest names for epics are those assigned by tradition to national works such as Mahābhārata (Bharata is the Sanskrit for India, maha means great) or the single word Iliás that the Greeks used for the Iliad (whether or not Homer so referred to his epic). Some such epics are named after a hero, like Gilgamesh, or Odýsseia (for Odysseus’ adventures), or Aeneis, the single Latin word, Greek in form, that Vergil chose (for his Aeneid).


My 26 books all have one-word titles, in imitation of a practice from which later ages diverged, into Dante’s designation of his medieval Italian genre, La Commedia (which tradition renamed La Divina Commedia); or reverted to, with titles bearing the names of their heroes, as  in Renaissance epic-romances, which add to these names an adjective, such as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata states his theme.

Milton imitates Tasso’s title with his Paradise Lost and Paradise Regain’d, accenting their first syllables to render his own un-metrical. Most of Chaucer’s titles had been metrical, e.g., The Hous of Fame, The Parliament of Fowles. Spenser, with The Faerie Queene. follows Chaucer. Milton creates an influential model in his four-syllable Paradise Lost and five-syllable Paradise Regain’d. Sentence of the Gods follows Milton.

One of Milton’s motives may have been to make his titles translatable into languages that lack grammatical articles. Joyce, in his title Ulysses, parodies early epic titles; he calls his other epic not “The Wake of Finnegan” (iambic trimeter) but Finnegans Wake, which, like Paradise Lost, has four syllables, the first and last of them accented. Pound’s one-word Cantos, instead of a hero’s name or a theme, gives a collective title for epic songs.

It has been suggested that “The Sentence of the Gods” would be a better title for my epic, but its six.syllables are too many, its iambic trimeter too metrical; and its redundant “The”/“the” weakens its paronomasia. Sentence of the Gods too has five syllables (the first and last stressed) plus a lack of meter, which align it with the five un-metrical syllables of Paradise Regain’d. Like Milton’s title, mine is translatable, even into languages without articles.

The emphasis on the word “Sentence” imitates the clanging shut of a steel door as it fatefully echoes throughout a prison, though the reader may initially take “Sentence” to mean the grammatical unit. Only upon reflection is she likely to read it as equivalent to sententia. Also multivalent is my phrase “of the Gods,” i.e., (1) pronounced by, (2) written by, and (3) concerned with the gods. “The Sentence of the Gods” would make this all less clear.



Mine is no single-hero epic, hence a title like Ramayana is impossible. To call it simply “The Gods” would suggest bathos or ambivalence. Vergil and Ovid were ambivalent toward the gods, choosing to regard them as subordinate to their own thematologies. In my scheme of things, however, the gods are central, overriding other concerns. Far from ignoring the gods, I am controlled by them. How could I not take such a sequence of gods seriously?