I don’t really know what to expect when a story begins in medias res, in the middle of things. We suspect at some point we’ll be taken back to the start, that someone will give a summary of what happened up to that point.
The writers of classical antiquity didn’t have flashlights, but they knew the value of flashbacks.
Homer set the tone for the flashback narrative. In the Iliad, nearly half of the epic poem is a battery of flashbacks, stories told by Ulysses to various audiences about his rocky return home from Troy.
To begin in the middle of things is to find things in the middle, to wake up in the thick of it, to open your eyes in the middle of nowhere, with no clear idea of where you’ve been and where you’re headed. A bit like life, that is.
Starting in the middle of the journey, nell mezzo del camin, is to come to the game just before the die has been cast. Just before the time ran out – at the twelfth hour, before the opportunity was forever lost. And to take it from there, back as well as forward, an account that becomes clear only as the plot advances.
Virgil had no story before things became too hard to bear. So hard in fact that a story was in order. Aeneas’ journey from the flames of Trojan ruin to the fires of foundational struggle was one that could only be told if the Protagonist was found in the middle of the road. One foot in the past, another in the present. The horizon of possibility revealed by the curtain of lost.
Lost in the dark wood of epic. On the eve of the great unknown adventure.
Finally, to begin in the middle of things is to try new opening gambits under the cover of convention. In the middle of the struggle. In the middle of life, the great vantage point from where the heights of possibility are high only when confronted with the lowlands of loss and regret.
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