Ajax, Hecuba, and Vietnam


The image above is taken from a stage adaptation of the Iliad, now performing at ArtsEmerson. A group of Core students is venturing downtown to see this production, titled An Iliad, putting us in mind here on campus about the enduring relevance of this ancient text. Do our modern times still reflect that old world? Does Homer still speak to us? Has anything really changed since the Trojan War? Let’s turn to another text that, like An Iliad, draws upon that ancient source material: Jonathan Shay‘s Achilles in Vietnam. Here’s a quote from that book, page 29:

After Agamemnon’s betrayal and Potroklos’s death, Achilles kills Hektor before the eyes of his wife and parents and then mutilates and atrociously debases his corpse. Achilles’ character has changed. Before, he was responsive to all themis for the dead, the cultural definition of ‘what’s right’ towards enemy corpses.

Shay examines how war inflicts psychological injuries that have catastrophic effects on the character and sanity of those affected. A concept explored not only in the old texts of CC101 like Ajax and Hecuba but, in modern day as well through the researching of PTSD in veterans and other anxiety/trauma disorders. The relevancy and timelessness of these texts are what make them classics. Maybe times haven’t really changed.

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