Once....not so very long ago I was listening to a panel discussion on CBC about what we should do should we happen to make contact with alien beings or should those beings land. To my amazement I learned that there are protocols for this -- rules about who should be contacted if some grad student, keeping watch by some telescope in the reaches of the night, comes up against what he/she considers to be a signal from another world. The protocols having been described, there was a lot of discussion as to the appropriate behaviour on the aliens' actual arrival. Various members of various learned societies discussed how we would, of course, want at once to question them as to how they had got here, what technology they had used. Through all of this the eminent physicist who was also on the panel held silent. Finally, he had his turn. "That's all very well," he countered, "But surely, assuming we can talk to them and so on....surely we should show them some courtesy. We should do what the Phaeacians do when Odysseus appears, weary and unknown, among them. We should offer them food and a place to rest; we should honour and welcome them, show them our home at its best, before we even consider bombarding them with all the things we want to know."
Hearing that then reminded me of when I had been in university, ploughing my way through some obscure academic paper in some illustrious journal in the cause of researching for an essay. Seeking distraction, I turned to the journal index. A title that claimed to offer thoughts on The Odyssey caught my eye -- a title that promised something less academic than that which I was seeking so studiously to avoid. And there it was -- the description of how an eminent classicist had found himself wounded and in hospital in the Korean War. He was in a ward reserved for officers but, when she found out what he did, one of the nurses told him he had to go to visit the enlisted men. "They're all reading The Odyssey she assured him. They're all talking about it all the time." He was sceptical but she was insistent and so he went. What she'd told him turned out to be true and the men he met had no trouble explaining why Odysseus' story was at the top of their minds. "It's our story," they told him. "The story of us, getting back from the war. Ten years Odysseus was away, ten years it takes him to get back. That's how it'll be. That's what we're facing now." They then went on to pick out various episodes they believed exactly mirrored experiences they had had.
I couldn't forget that. I couldn't forget it ever. It's why, when I started the series of epic tellings in Ottawa, The Odyssey was where we began. It's why I've been so moved each time we've brought the story to our small bit of the world. Here I am again too, burrowing once more into the text as I begin the edits which our time frame will necessitate in preparation for our first gathering of tellers, October 2. June 16 2011 -- when we step onto the Fourth Stage of the National Arts Centre in this wondrous collaboration between Ottawa Storytellers and 2wp -- is a long way off but this is a big project. We want to make the most of it and live it to the full.
Each time there's something that comes at me differently. This go round I'm struck by how -- ten years on from Troy -- this is still so much a war-torn world. Menelaus, himself, took eight years to be returning; there is the fate of Agammenon referred to over and over in so many different contexts; there is the sorrow for dead comrades; there is the grief for dead sons. "I would give up all my riches," says Menelaus, "If I could have my dead comrades back."
When we get together we will talk of some of this, knowing that the story will be different for each of us (as it will for each of our listeners) and yet striving to build the common ground that will help us in the setting forth. I am hoping for a truly wondrous day of early October weather so we can sit out on the porch, looking out over the setting for our weekend epics, breathing in lake and sunshine and the changing of the leaves.