A Journey of Experience

Dear Academy Families,

With exams beginning next week, and winter holidays starting the week thereafter, this is my last weekly letter of the fall semester. Where did time fly?

Speaking of time, my 9th grade English class has been wrapping up The Odyssey just in time for the exam. One of the fascinating beauties of this classic epic involves the manipulation of time, which our class has been mulling over for several weeks. The first four books take place in a few weeks, involving Odysseus’ son Telemachus, who leaves home to find his father by visiting the courts of Nestor and Menelaus. Next, from Books 5 to 10, we learn the details of Odysseus’ 10 year journey trying to return home to Ithaca, mostly in flashbacks told to the king and court of Phaeacia – and often jumping between broad sweeps of many years when he was imprisoned by the goddess-nymph Calypso, to details from a few days to a few months describing other adventures and challenges Odysseus faced.

What is most remarkable, however, is that by Book 13, the narrative flip-flops between Telemachus returning to Ithaca and Odysseus having just arrived there, in disguise, being hosted by a loyal swineherd. The text reads “just that night” and “that hour” to juxtapose the two characters as they converge. Finally, Telemachus stands in the doorway of the swineherd’s hut, while his father sits inside – a father the son cannot remember from 20 years before when Odysseus left to fight at Troy, as Telemachus was just a toddler then. Even at this moment of reunion, however, when Odysseus reveals himself to his son, Telemachus refuses to believe this stranger could really be his father, returned at last. It takes much of Book 16 for them to reunite.

The two men have journeyed long to arrive at this moment – the son maturing along the way, the father learning to shed his warrior habits and become once again more human. In just such a convergence, I enjoy the generational perspectives of my 9th grade class, as they mature and I learn to become a better human being. Like father and son, teacher and students circle each other warily at first, then realize they are much more closely related than they had previously thought (Telemachus has even been told by Menelaus that he has his father’s feet – who knew?)

So as time flies, and converges, and forces us all on a journey of experience to mature into our better human selves, I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a very happy, healthy New Year!

Warm regards,
James S. Berkman
Head of School

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