When A Hero Comes Home

A soldier returns home from battle but has brought the war with him. He stares off into the distance, unable to take joy in his family or friends, still hyperalert to threats he no longer faces. Unable to heal his invisible wound, he takes his own life.

This isn’t a tragic news story about a veteran coming back from Afghanistan with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s a summary of the Greek play “Ajax,” which is more than 2,000 years old (“Ancient warrior myths help veterans fight PTSD“).

Since I touched on PTSD in the classics in the last post and it is Memorial Day, it seemed only right to share this article I stumbled upon about how ancient myths, plays, and literary works are helping veterans heal, cope, and transition after coming home from war. I actually studied this at length in school, particularly in several epic literature classes, a class on genocide and reconciliation, a class on Ancient Ireland, and a class on combat trauma and how it relates to Ancient Greek theatre, most of them taught by Professor Robert Meagher of Hampshire College, who specializes in this (among other things).

I also have a friend who has worked extensively with veterans and veterans’ issues and, while in college, I helped another friend with a modern student film adaptation of Herakles, so I wound up discussing and learning about combat trauma, its ancient beginnings, and the healing power of writing (see, well, half of English literature) for a veteran (or non-combatant, for that matter) struggling to make sense of their experiences and reintegrate into their old life back home. What struck me most in this particular article is the fact that just knowing PTSD has existed for so long can be validating and “might also help remove the stigma around it” (see above link). It’s like me and the Icelandic peasant from my last post.

And they say the humanities are useless.

If you’d like to learn more about the correlation between PTSD and anciet epics/literature,  I have a few recommendations:



Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in an Age of Endless War, Robert Emmet Meagher, Euripides

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, Jonathan Shay

Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, Jonathan Shay



The Iliad, Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo

The Odyssey, Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo

The Tain: Translated from the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge, translated by Thomas Kinsella*

*The Tain takes the animal metaphors used to describe Achilles’s battle rage to the next level, making the young warrior Cuchullain actually turn into a monster. Some take this as a straight werewolf-like transformation, while others see this as merely an extension of the battle frenzy metaphor. Whichever way you want to read it as, the toll of war on a young man is still evident.



Trojan Women, Euripides, edited by Alan Shapiro and Peter Burian – There is also a film adaptation of Trojan Women, if you’re a more visual learner.

“Hekabe”, Euripides – There are many translations of “Hekabe” with several spellings. However, I read the version in The Essential Euripides: Dancing in Dark Times, translated by Robert Emmet Meagher.

“Lysistrata”, Aristophanes – As above, there are many translations. The version I read was in Aristophanes: The Complete Plays, translated by Paul Roche.




4 thoughts on “When A Hero Comes Home

  1. Leslie Barnsley says:

    important information to get out there


    • I thought so. The Voices for Veterans program they talk about sounds particularly helpful, since, as they say, our culture lacks the welcoming home/reintegrating/absolving rituals many ancient cultures had to help warriors transition back to civilian life.


  2. Shan Schu says:

    Very interesting


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