Since I began re-re-re-reading The Iliad, I’ve looked forward to one scene more than others. I’ll set it up for you and then let Mr. Lattimore do the heavy lifting. A hard day’s fight has gone badly for the Trojans, thanks to some serious divine intervention on behalf of the Greeks. The seer Helenos, brother to both Hector and Paris, has suggested that the women of Troy pray to Athena to help the Trojans and sends Hector from the battlefield to carry the suggestion. Hector races through Troy to find the appropriate priests and then goes home to see his wife and son.
So speaking, glorious Hector held out his arms to his baby,
who shrank back to his fair-girdled nurse’s bosom
screaming, and frightened as the aspect of his own father,
terrified as he saw the bronze and the crest with its horse-hair
nodding dreadfully, as the thought, from the peak of the helmet.
I recalled this passage for two reasons:
- I have a student named Hector and the only thing that helped me learn his name is that he wears his long, curly hair tied on top. It’s not horsehair, but it’ll do.
- Classicists love this vignette. Of all the heroes in The Iliad, only Hector appears in both a martial and a domestic setting. To modern readers, he most resembles what we’d call a good man. He fights hard and he takes care of his family. He leads his people. He never seems greedy or cruel. In addition, the audience, both modern and ancient, knew the characters’ fates. His wife would live to see his husband run down and killed by the Trojan’s chief antagonist, Achilles. His son would die a gruesome death, tossed from the walls of the city that failed to protect the Trojans. All in all, a sad piece of business.
Reading The Iliad as a family novel, however, adds a third perspective, one deeply personal to me. I can imagine Hector’s heart beating and his mind racing with the urgency of his task. He’s got to save Troy; only he can save the city. When he arrives at his home, his urgency is written all over his face–he hasn’t even had time to take his helmet off. His urgency scares his family.
I’ve been there, Hector. I have never had an easy time leaving work at work. In particular, I let a bad day come home with me. I come home with my helmet on and it clearly upsets my family. It’s a bad habit I’ve kept with me as I’ve made the transition from advertising to teaching.
Fortunately, I’ve made progress. A little, anyway.
While I may come home with my helmet on, the impact has changed. I no longer come home especially angry and thus I don’t cause concern. Rather, I bore the living hell out of my family.
I have gone from coming home in a bad mood because of a stupid, pointless project to having nothing to talk about except my classes. Whether I had a good day or a bad day, I have little to talk about round the dinner table (yes, we mostly eat together still) other than what I did at work.
For context, I have almost no time during school for those mental breaks or water-cooler conversations I took for granted in my previous job. In class, I can’t slack off or a minute lest students take advantage of a lull to do something counter-productive. I do not exaggerate. Hell, they find time when I’m teaching them directly to do something counter-productive.
After class, I have to start preparing for the next day or to attend meetings where, as the new kid in town, I have to take whoever’s up front talking seriously. I rarely have an opportunity to mutter more than a brief greeting to another adult.
As a result, when I come home, I can’t talk about something funny I saw on the internet or the latest gossip about my co-workers because I barely had time to check Facebook or Twitter and I have no idea what my co-workers are doing when they’re not flogging education on students. So I don’t scare my family so much as bore them to pieces. I don’t blame them. How many times can I say “Manny was really extra today” before they tune it out?
I have to look at this change as progress. It’s taken me a few months to get here. As with many new teachers, I had an especially rough October as a result of flagging initial enthusiasm on my part mixed with the contempt borne of familiarity on my students’ part. It took well into November for me to feel settled again. And by that time, my family had heard all they needed to about my students’ and administrators’ antics.
If anything, the realization that I have bored my family stiff encourages me to talk less, not more, at dinner (a good thing). Maybe soon I’ll be able to leave my helmet at work for good.