One of the most ancient stories in Western literature is about two men who fight until they are exhausted and then laugh out loud as they realise they have been each other’s equal all along, and so become best friends.
This is not just a ripping yarn but a story about what it means to be human and about what we are capable of – the bad as well as the good.
The Iliad is, likewise, not just entertainment but an account of what Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, is remembered for and why.
It’s not his prowess as a warrior but how he regained his humanity by recognising the humanity of his enemy, Priam, King of Troy.
Priam’s grief moved Achilles to tears. He then did what was required of him by the rules that regulated the relationship between strangers and enemies.
Myths such as Gilgamesh and The Iliad, like the Bible, are powerful stories that throw light on questions we may have about the stories of our own lives.
How, for example, did we mature, in 100 years, from White Australia to the Multicultural society we are today?
What enabled us to enlarge the Anzac Story by agreeing that the Turks should march with us on Anzac Day and form their own RSL Sub Branches?
Why are Vietnam Veterans returning in droves to Vietnam to the redemptive welcome of their former enemy?
So, is there more to achieve along the trajectory we have been on, from White Australia to Multiculturalism?
Yes. Our sense of who we are and what we are capable of is not yet everything it can be.
For example, can the Anzac Story be further enlarged to include all who fought to defend this country?
Are we capable of being moved by the grief of other Australians whose forebears defended this country for 140 years against us, and finally befriending them?
Yes we can, according to the ancient and venerable stories of Gilgamesh and Achilles, because this exactly the kind of thing human beings are capable of when we are at our best.
No matter what has gone before, we can, like Achilles, respond to the grief of our former enemy and accord them the courtesies of our shared humanity.
Like Gilgamesh we can go even further than being merely courteous and befriend as an equal the former enemy we could not defeat.
Including the first Australian patriots in the Anzac Story may seem like a big ask. But it is a logical next step on the path we have been on. It is what comes next – unless we move backwards and that is surely unthinkable.
Well, no actually. Another reason we should know the big stories of our culture is precisely that they remind us that we are capable of trashing what we treasure.
By connecting the Anzac Story the Myth of the Trojan War we can not only understand why we have matured from White Australia to Multicultural Australia, but recognise the options for the next step along that path.