The Argument of Time Series
My formal education in ancient literature has amounted to little more than a smattering from Homer and Ovid, and my knowledge of ancient languages has been limited to brief responses that I learned when the Roman Catholic mass was still said in Latin. Nevertheless, in my fourth decade I found Ovid’s Metamorphoses and suddenly entered a genre of literature in which I felt completely at home: the epic poem. Ovid led me to Homer led me to Vergil led me to Dante . . . in short, I discovered my poetic family.
This deep connection to epic poetry makes sense because I am, above all else, interested in the why and how of the stories that we humans tell. Stories about ourselves, about others, about the world and the universe, about the past and the future. Stories. But epic poems offer more than mere narrative; the large scope of storytelling and the extended time in them give “Lovers of Poetry,” as John Keats wrote in defense of long poems, “a little Region to wander in.” As a reader and a writer, I love nothing more than to lose myself in a poetic, story-rich landscape.
For more than two decades I nursed an unexpressed wish to write a modern epic. Ostia Antica, an extinct city in the vicinity of Rome, transformed that wish into reality. During my first visit there in 2014, I had a profound experience—a sudden recognition that a landscape retains all of the stories that have happened in it. The structure of a series, now titled The Argument of Time, appeared, all at once, as if in a vision. From the beginning the series was conceived as a five-book epic poem. In addition, I saw each of the five books as an epyllion, a short epic poem. Therefore, the pieces in each book connect into one poem; the five books connect into one large poem.