In all literature, philosophy, theology, politics, and religion the goal of a life is to bring order to chaos. Whether this be done through a philosophical system, applying strict reasoning axiomatically from the highest principles to the lowest elements, or through giving the rule of habit and law to those who will be governed by one’s order, this motif moves throughout all history, time, and geography as a fundamental, though cryptic, truth. The best place to start, when speaking of cosmopoesis, or world-creation, as an opus magnum, therefore, will be in the richest and most robust worlds created by man, epic literature.
The reason that epic literature has here been chosen to serve as the vehicle of one’s highest design is simply the pride of place this genre receives in the minds of those who read and study it. E.M.W. Tillyard weighs the epic as the master-achievement of a poet laying his claim to greatness on one seminal work, and Louise Cowan simply calls it, “so monumental and grand a mode of poetic expression…” The epic, in short, is the opus magnum of a poet, or their master-work. But what exactly makes an epic the product of a life-time? Is it its form or narrative structure, as commonly argued by scholars like Tillyard above? No, not at all. The reason epic literature, like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, or Dante’s Commedia, captures our imaginations and endures through hundreds, or thousands of years, is precisely because an epic is not simply a piece of literature at all, but the creation of a kosmos, the creation or making (poiein), of a world.
Now, a detractor will immediately remind us that only the Divine has created a world, and this world, of course, is eternal and everlasting. This, however, even if one reads one’s Old Testament, is not quite correct. Looking to Proverbs 8.27, one observes that the Divine does not create the water and the earth, but rather sets limits to it. And really, this helps one’s reasoning if the existence of imperfection and sin are an issue to one’s thinking–the form applied to the world was perfect, but the temporal and material nature of the earth and beings on it tends towards decadence–therefore imperfection. This goes a bit afield, however. The point is that the purpose of an epic poem is to create a world which both represents and improves on the world at large by applying the principles of the “outside” world, or the “Divine/Natural Laws” to a plot, characters, and world within a story, or by means of logos. This, if one follows, John, is precisely the same act of creation which the Divine in Christianity enacted–regardless of theological/mythological tradition: the initial Divine act is also an ordering from chaos in Greek mythology, following Hesiod, the Hindu faith, and all the Abrahamic religions. The major motion forward, and key to one’s life on earth, however, is the aspect of giving logos or the form and structure necessary to a world.
How, though, is the giving of form or logos/morphe to a piece of literature in any way the same as the Divine setting limits to the earth and giving nomos, law, morphe, form, and logos, meaning, to a world? Well, it is precisely the same, but on a microcosmic scale. The function of an epic is to apply the law of the Divine to a world which exists and thrives according to the same law as the world outside. An epic begins with conflict, and then strives towards order, and in so doing, it orders the soul of one who reads it to such an extent, if it is understood at its deepest levels, that one then becomes capable of ordering one’s own kosmos, or work of art, literature, politics, et cetera according to one’s own ability to comprehend the divine law. The epic, as the highest human achievement, then enjoys this status, because the epic is the creation closest in nature to the divine act of creation/ordering. Just as the creation of the world was not the generation/production of it, so is the creation of an epic not simply a production but a performative act. Just as the logos did not create the world and disappear, so does it not disappear in one’s epic either. In fact, so long as the epic exists, the logos infused within it maintains its performative and transformative power, and in this way, an author’s personal immortality becomes linked with the transformative and enduring effect of the epic-work–the Homeric Chain, and one’s linking to it, as it were.
One’s purpose in life then, one’s deepest meaning, would lie in two major events: baptism by water: or the pursuit of and acquisition of the wisdom necessary to acquire the insight into the fundamental purpose of one’s existence–that is, realization of the task of one’s life, and then baptism by the word, when one sets out and accomplishes this task, if one does; just as Dante in his Vita Nuova, realized that his master-work would be a poem, rivaling and surpassing his own master’s, Virgil. And then he achieved this in his Commedia. But of course, he owes a debt of gratitude to Virgil, as it was the sublime wisdom of Virgil (and several other philosophers, warriors, poets, and thinkers) which unlocked this potential in Dante himself. Just as Kant says in his Critique of Pure Judgment that increased exposure to works of Greek and Latin refine and sharpen one’s mind, so does then exposure to epics, naturally, begin to order one’s being to such a degree that if one were, say, a person of five talents, willing to double his or her talents, that perhaps with some divine help, one might add to one’s self just one more, and in the eleventh talent, one might leave a perpetual act, a work, which continues to influence those who live after one dies, in such a way as to order their beings in a universal and particular way, so that they, with tremendous work and luck, might continue the chain down the line through history, and that, rather than simply the generation of further humans, and production of value or conveniences, is the true purpose of human existence.
This is but the first general introduction to this subject. Stick around as this author makes a run at his own opus magnum, for better or for worse.
In Part II, we will look at connections between Westworld, Homer’s Iliad, and Dante’s Commedia for further evidence of this universal truth.