" So they were busied with their meal in the halls; but meanwhile Rumor, the messenger, went swiftly throughout all the city, telling of the terrible death and fate of the wooers. And the people heard it all at once, and gathered from every side with moanings and wailings" (The Odyssey.XXIV.412-415)
The image I can't get out of my head comes from Book 24 of the Odyssey, with Odysseus, his son Telemachus, and his father Laertes standing on the hill as the angry villagers storm up looking for payback.
We often overlook this, like we overlook the whole act of reconciliation when it comes to war. If Hollywood script writers wrote the Odyssey I'm convinced it would end just after Odysseus slaughters the suitors, Penelope would magically forgive the staff for their disloyalty, and hero and wife would have a kiss that made up for 20 years & embrace in a sanitized banquet hall just before the camera shot fades.
But the story doesn't end that way which makes me wonder how foundational it is to the rest of Western Literature. Maybe our desire to read rugged individualism into our heroes and for happy, resolved endings, keeps us from understanding what the hell we are reading.
Odysseus doesn't come home and take care of business. He comes home and realizes the culture of fear and the rumor mill that connects the townspeople have ensured that he can't just lay down his sword. The humans have no ability to stop the cycle of violence, and the hero no ability to turn off the switch that put him in warrior mode. The goddess Athena has to descend from Olympus and put everyone in their place.
I don't doubt that some teachers follow all the way through to the end, but of the scenes embedded in our cultural memory - reconciliation is nowhere in it. The 'hero' has to not only reintroduce himself to the family but also to the community.
As we're welcoming soldiers home (still) from the Forever War, or as we're processing the news of another flash point in the world or violence in our own neighborhoods we don't have the luxury of filtering what we see through a set of prejudices that we grip tightly with both hands. We wind up believing in our own agency and that we are still conquering rather than learning how to build communities.
The need to set down the prejudices that we're filtering all this information through, and read the words from beginning until the last letter, has never been greater. I don't think Athena's going to come down from Olympus and break it down for us.