Paul Maharg is a law professor who writes an interesting eponymous blog. Reflecting upon a Mass Online Open Course about the hero in Greek Literature, he turned to musing about his time at boarding school, and its consequences for him, his preoccupations and his reading. First, Robert Graves’ The Siege and Fall of Troy…then:
What were we escaping? A place where it had been determined for you that the conditions of school and home were forced together, and you wanted them desperately to be separate. The situation of neither one condition nor the other fascinated a child who was drawn to the edge of things. Other books read at that age revealed the same preoccupation. The historical worlds of Rosemary Sutcliff, a favourite author, often set in transitionary and tragic historical moments, where home undergoes radical change; and the fantasy half-worlds of Alan Garner, were full of such liminal narratives.
… Much later I noted that as an adult I was drawn to narratives that dwelt on time’s passage or used time as a narrative device …
I began to realise more clearly how for me in my childhood time and liminality had been linked; how generally our attitude to future time and time past affects what we enact in the present and how we represent it and explain it to ourselves. In one sense, Achilles’ life-choice, so heroically stark and clear, is brutally selfish because it doesn’t involve thinking about relations with others or past or future generations. All the tiny implicated choices and decisions we make every day of our lives are abolished – it’s a decision rendered heroic, iliadic, because stripped of quotidian time.
Thinking about the MOOC, maybe the real heroic struggle that’s at the core of what we were learning doesn’t involve physical prowess, victory or even logos, though that was there: the real test is how we negotiate failure, loss, time and death.