Past & Present Spring 2006
Past and Present
How The Trojans Almost Won The War
Homer’s Iliad is a brilliant and rich epic poem. It has all the ingredients of every popular blockbuster ever conceived: a beautiful girl or two, warriors who commit themselves to victory or death, jealousy, pomposity, agonizing irony, sacrilegious behaviour, political intrigue, supernatural wrangling, war between nations, and in-fighting amongst allies. It doesn’t get much better. One certainly wouldn’t go to the Iliad for an organizational exemplar as how to win a war and influence people. It’s more of a how-not-to rather than a how-to.
So what exactly can we learn from the past to apply to the present – especially since this edition of Past and Present focuses on teamwork?
In the Iliad, the pompous Agamemnon, who loves himself and power above all else, enlists the necessary help of the most elite of warriors, Achilles, in his campaign against the Trojans. Without Achilles on his side, Agamemnon’s hope of winning the war is about as possible as a Leaf Stanley Cup. He knows that. Achilles knows that. Every Greek in the army knows that.
What happens? Agamemnon’s army overruns a Trojan town and captures two beautiful maidens. Agamemnon takes one and Achilles takes the other. The maidens’ father, a priest of Apollo, offers General Aggie a huge ransom for one of his daughters which Agamemnon promptly ignores. The father/priest is heartbroken, and uses his Delphic“in” to pray to the listening Apollo and asks the Sun god to send a plague upon the camp. Before you can say Hippocratic, the members of Agamemnon’s army begin to fall like drunken guests at Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. (But that’s another story….)
Agamemnon is worried. He consults a prophet and learns that the apprehended maiden he chose, Chryseis, is the cause, and should be returned tout de suite, (except in Greek). Agamemnon promptly gives demure Chryseis back to her grateful father, and then, stupidly, arrogantly and thoughtlessly, asks for Achilles’ maiden “treasure” as a form of compensation. “I’m the king,” he proclaims, “and am first due the spoils of war.” (Homer is far more poetic about it, but that’s the gist of the phrase.)
Achilles is affronted and insulted. He refuses to fight in the war any longer. He goes back to his tent to sulk. Agamemnon now has a bigger problem. He’s got the girl but lost the war.
I won’t tell you what happened. Most of you know, probably, and retelling this portion of the Iliad is not the essence of this article. But what this excerpt does illustrate is the importance of teamwork, of thoughtful, strategic leadership and egoless interactiontowards a goal. Agamemnon’s army was clearly the best and was positioned to end the war swiftly and efficiently, but short-term need clouded long-term outcome, and the result was almost cataclysmic.
At Crescent, we talk about the importance of mutually supportive teamwork a great deal: at staff meetings, in our athletic endeavors, during play rehearsals, at Prefect meetings and at mentor meetings. At each of these groupings – and many more – we strive to embrace the notions that the first or loudest or initially the most attractive idea is not always the best idea, and that the best idea is usually the one created by the group. We
are stronger together than we are individually.
Our students are great team players. They’re great leaders, too. And they are challenged to be both at appropriate times. Their ability to understand both roles can be traced to our core values which are articulated and modeled repeatedly: respect, responsibility, honesty and compassion. Great leaders and great team players embody all of those qualities – and more, probably – but those four core values are a good foundation and a terrific place to start. Our students take their roles as leaders or support seriously but joyously. We coach them to “play long” in all their pursuits, and not to get caught up in the Agamemnon-like swirl of “me first” or the Achilles-like tantrum of “treat me special”. I think you can be proud of today’s Crescent student: a great team player, a forward thinker, who is as comfortable conducting as he is playing in the orchestra. He is the embodiment of Crescent students in the past and those who will graduate from our school in the future: a man of character from a boy of promise. Today’s Crescent student is tomorrow’s ethical, world citizen. Judging from the boys and young men I have the pleasure of seeing every day, our future is in good hands.