In Medias Res
I am currently reading through The Iliad with the 10th graders that I teach. One of the important concepts to The Iliad is in medias res. In medias res means that a story picks up in the middle of the action. This is the case in The Iliad. Homer does not provide the backstory of Paris running off to Achaea and stealing away Helen back to Troy; leaving Menelaus a cuckold. Rather, the story jumps right into an argument between Achilles and Agamemnon that sets into motion the final events of the Trojan war that had been going on for almost 10 years to that point.
The reason that it is important for the students to understand the concept of in medias res, is because our lives are marked by it in every way. Life does not begin at our birth, rather, we are thrown straight into a story that has long predated our arrival in the narrative. We are born in medias res; into the middle of the action.
One of the tricky things about being rational creatures is that we can often fool ourselves into thinking that we can remove ourselves from the action. The philosophes of the Enlightenment were notorious for this, Descartes especially. As heirs of the Enlightenment, we often believe that we can view the world in the same way that a scientist can view a petri dish. But this can never be the case.
It is often in discussions of a philosophical nature that this is most evident. We moderns have a tendency to believe that we can abstract ourselves from our world and look down at it like some sort of god. This is impossible. In our attempts to climb the stairs of the ivory tower we often reveal our own hubris rather than the nature of reality.
We are characters in a story, we are not the author. We are placed in the plot and given roles. We enter stage right or stage left and are called upon to recite our lines and act.
Food for thought.