Rethinking Achilles and PTSD

From Manchester Metropolitan University comes a challenge to Dr Jonathan Shay’s work:

AN HISTORIAN from Manchester Metropolitan University has refuted one of the most long-standing theories about the link between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Ancient Greece.

In his book chapter Beyond the Universal Soldier: Combat Trauma in Classical Antiquity, Dr Jason Crowley argues against the commonly-held idea that sufferers of PTSD can be found as far back in history as Achilles and Odysseus.

The article will be published in the Palgrave Macmillan book Combat Trauma and the Ancient Greeks, in September.

Dr Crowley said that the roots of this belief in the universality of PTSD can be traced back to the end of the Vietnam War.

Universalist view

He said: “There is the view – and I think it’s quite appealing – that people are generally good. Generally good people, when they see horrible things, are upset and traumatised – that idea has an obvious human appeal.

“This idea was sharpened by the Vietnam War when a lot of men came back from South East Asia having lost the war and no longer able to function in society.

“When they came back, some veterans of World War Two unjustly ridiculed them because they won their war – a bigger, nastier, hotter war – and they put about the view that America lost this smaller war because the men fighting were morally weak.

This view of a morally weak generation was understandably rejected by the Vietnam veterans and those involved in their treatment, and they set out to prove that they were no different from any other soldier, and one of the first places they looked for proof was ancient Greece.

Achilles’ suffering

Scholars initially looked at the Illiad, the account of the doings of the “biggest, bravest soldier of them all” Achilles, and saw there what they believed to be evidence that the Greek hero suffered from PTSD.

This led to a wave of “retrospective diagnoses” on everyone from Greek heroes to bloodthirsty Spartans.

Dr Crowley said: “It seems harmless enough until you realise that the people treating our soldiers believed this and so treated everyone the same. I wanted to refute that idea so I modelled the cause of PTSD and what I noticed was that all the causes of PTSD are cultural.”

He said that unlike modern soldiers, Greek men believed that enemies existed simply to be killed and that a man’s worth could be valued by the number of enemies he had slain.

Protective factors

In addition, soldiers in ancient Greece didn’t suffer from social isolation, prolonged artillery bombardment or exhaustion in the way that their modern-day counterparts do.

He said: “One of the causes of PTSD is when you have no ability to take direct action – you can’t evade or remove a threat,. For example, sitting under shellfire is psychologically malignant. For ancient Greeks that wasn’t a problem – they could take direct action, they could either run away from their enemy or they could kill him.”

He added that there were also factors in the ancient world that could actually protect soldiers from PTSD, particularly the normalcy of killing created by living in an ultraviolent society.

He said: “They were surrounded by violence and death in their daily life. You were conditioned to deploy violence and that wasn’t seen as transgressive, it was seen as the morally right thing to do. Modern soldiers, if they kill an enemy soldier have the unjust feeling of doing something wrong. That feeling, that ‘I’ve done something I shouldn’t have’, was entirely absent in ancient society.”

Dr Crowley concluded by saying: “PTSD is not universal – it’s historically and culturally specific and when we treat soldiers we should do so on that basis, not that everyone is the same. The people who compared the Vietnam veterans to Achilles meant well, but they are doing the soldiers a disservice.”

So which came first, PTSD or ultraviolence?

News from Pompeii: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Catching up with what’s been happening at Pompeii … first, from ANSA, we read of 10 ‘new’ houses being opened to the public:

From the sumptuous frescoes of the Hunting Lodge (Casa della Caccia) to the exquisite decorations of the House of Apollo (Casa di Apollo) and vivid reliefs of the Trojan War, Pompeii is seducing visitors this summer with 10 newly restored houses, some of which had never been open to the public before. After long controversy regarding the lack of personnel at Pompeii, the ministry of culture has dispatched 30 new keepers for the holiday season, a State exam to select new janitors is in the works, and extended opening hours on Friday mean the public can stroll through the ruins after sundown. Tourists are enjoying the new sites: more than 13,000 visitors flocked to Pompeii on the August 15 national religious holiday, bringing proceeds in excess of 114,000 euros, while 122 people decided to explore the city preserved in lava during night visiting hours.

The 10 new houses include the Thermopolium (Latin for restaurant) of Vetutius Placidus, where people could buy cooked food to go. It boasts shrines to Mercury and Dionysus (the gods of commerce and wine, respectively), a dining hall, and an adjoining mansion with a vestibule, a garden, and a dining room.

The Ancient Hunting Lodge (Casa della Caccia Antica) is another must-see at Pompeii. According to experts, it had just undergone renovation when it was buried under meters of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. An extensive hunting scene is still visible on one of its garden walls, and its interiors are luxuriously decorated with beautiful paintings and marble-like coverings.

Also noteworthy are the Domus Cornelia and its exquisite sculptures, the House of Apollo adorned with images of the god to which it owes its name, and the House of Achilles with its impressive reliefs of the Trojan war.

… but then we hear of a French tourist being caught trying to take some tiles home as a souvenir (this is the Bad) … from the Local:

A French tourist was arrested on Tuesday after stealing a relic from the ancient ruins of Pompeii. It is the latest in a string of thefts from the site which one tour guide told The Local “is all too easy to steal from”.

The 51-year-old was arrested for theft while trying to escape from the site in southern Italy, Articolo Tre reported.

He had taken pieces of red plaster and fragments from an amphora handle as a “souvenir”.

The latest theft comes just a few months after a tourist from Georgia was caught trying to steal tiles from a mosaic at the site, also to take home as a keepsake.

Giorgio Melani, from Guide Pompei, told The Local that the vast site is easy to steal from because there are few custodians guarding the relics.

But Giuseppe Galano, a tour guide at Visit Pompeii, believes some tourists visit the site specifically to leave with some of its “treasure”.

“I question whether they would do the same thing at home. They know Pompeii is famous and they want a piece of it,” he said, adding that the summer is peak season for theft.

“Especially on the first Sunday of each month when the entrance is free. About 14,000 people passed through the gates last Sunday; how can you control that?”

While the relics from the latest thefts are now back in safe hands, others from Pompeii have made it as far as eBay.

Just last week an Australian auction advertised a mosaic from the site, but the advert was quickly removed after it caught the attention of the Italian police

In January, a brick supposedly taken from the ruins in 1958 was also put up for sale on the online retail site for just $99, or a little over €70. The listing, which included four photos of the brick, soon caught the attention of online surfers and, eventually, the police.

As for the Ugly (in the sense it’s probably something you don’t want to see), here’s the Telegraph coverage of a story that’s been making the rounds over the past week:

Among the most popular attractions in the ancient city of Pompeii are the colourful frescoes which depict the lurid sexual fantasies of those who lived there 2,000 years ago.

Inspired by the images, a French tourist and two Italian women decided to make their personal fantasy a reality. They were caught climbing the walls of the UNESCO World Heritage site late on Tuesday night, heading for the city’s Suburban Baths.

The communal baths were once a lively meeting place for wealthy merchants and political leaders before the city was wiped out in the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD.

The bath walls were vividly decorated with explicit sex scenes, including group sex, for patrons who were looking to visit the prostitutes nearby.

The trio – a 32-year-old French man from Lyon and his companions – were seeking to bring those images to life when they were caught by custodians in a Pompeii piazza and handed over to police.

One Italian report said they were semi-naked and confessed to police that they were looking for the baths to fulfil their desires.

Pompeii officials said the three had neither damaged nor stolen anything from the historic site and police said they were only charged with trespassing.

But their escapade has provoked plenty of debate in an Italian press more accustomed to writing about tourists stealing souvenirs or etching their names in the walls of the country’s ancient treasures.

“There is fornication and fornication,” said commentator Pietro Treccagrioli from the daily, Il Mattino. “If it is done for art, it deserves applause.”

Experts say six frescoes in the apodyterium or changing room of the Pompeii bath house offer an “erotic catalogue” of the era and many of the villas in Pompeii also display the remnants of erotic images and statues.

Will Rogers on Romans and Pilgrims?

Did Will Rogers really say this? It doesn’t quite work, does it?

The only difference between the Roman gladiators and the Pilgrims was that the Romans used a lion to cut down their native population, and the Pilgrims used a gun.” – April 27, 1930

.. I have images of a gladiator swinging a lion against some Samnite guy …

New List: Ancient Food Technology

Julie Hrubey of Dartmouth posted this to various lists:

It seems that culinary technologies have been emerging as a subfield
within archaeology for some time now, and that it would be a good time
for those who approach culinary technologies from different scholarly
angles, whether ceramics, palaeoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, fuel
studies, etc., to have a dedicated discussion space. I have initiated
an email mailing list (there will probably also be a Facebook page
shortly, but I’m not quite there yet).

To sign up, go to
<http://listserv.dartmouth.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A0=ANCIENT-FOOD-TECH>
and click on the “subscribe or unsubscribe” link in the bottom right
corner; it should be self-evident from there. The list is conceived
quite broadly, as “a forum for the discussion of the cooking
technologies (including cooking vessels, fuels, etc.) of ancient
Mediterranean and neighboring cultures,” with the hope that
interesting collaborative approaches and pictures of broad culinary
trends will emerge.

Greek Reporter Hypocritically Bites One of the Many Hands That Feeds It

So as is my wont, yesterday, prior to setting off for my nightly appointment with Morpheus, I sort assorted email items to post at rogueclassicism and/or my explorator newsletter.  One of those items was a piece at the BBC by Oxford Classicist Armand D’Angour, whom we have mentioned several times at rogueclassicism. Dr D’Angour penned a nice little piece commenting on the veracity of assorted Greek legends: How many Greek legends were really true? It is a well-written piece, with nothing which a Classicist would take umbrage at. Imagine my surprise, however, when I woke up to an item from the Greek Reporter, which oddly seems to have seen Dr Armand’s piece as an attack on Greek Culture: BBC Attempts to Rewrite Ancient Greek History!

As longtime readers of rogueclassicism know, I have often criticized Greek Reporter for ‘losing things in translation’ or not reporting things as clearly as a news source should. In this case, however, Greek Reporter has not only ‘missed the boat’ … they didn’t even make it to the pier, washed away in a wave of false inferences and insinuations. Even worse, Greek Reporter doesn’t even provide the name of the author of the piece. Sadly, however, it is clear that Dr D’Angour is now being excoriated online (at Twitter) by the trolls who suck at the teat of Greek Reporter. E.g.:

So let’s begin with Dr D’Angour’s opening paragraph:

The culture and legends of ancient Greece have a remarkably long legacy in the modern language of education, politics, philosophy, art and science. Classical references from thousands of years ago continue to appear. But what was the origin of some of these ideas?

… and this is how Greek Reporter appears to have interpreted it and/or decided to spin it:

BBC published a not so flattering article regarding ancient Greek legends. The article’s author, Armand d’Angour, associate professor of classics at the University of Oxford, raises a series of questions and attempts to clarify if all of the ancient Greek legends are actually true or if they are myths, a figment of Greeks’ colorful imagination. The article seems as an unsuccessful attempt to devalue the significance of Greek culture and the contribution of ancient Greeks to modern civilization.

Wow … from dealing with ‘legends’, you get that? Moving on, Dr D’Angour deals first with the question of the veracity of the Trojan Horse:

The story of the Trojan Horse is first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, an epic song committed to writing around 750BC, describing the aftermath of a war at Troy that purportedly took place around 500 years earlier.

After besieging Troy (modern-day Hisarlik in Turkey) for 10 years without success, the Greek army encamped outside the city walls made as if to sail home, leaving behind them a giant wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Athena.

The Trojans triumphantly dragged the horse within Troy, and when night fell the Greek warriors concealed inside it climbed out and destroyed the city. Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was indeed burned down; but the wooden horse is an imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire-arrows.

… personally, I had never heard of the “damp horse-hide” interpretation, but it is interesting and not really offensive as far as I can tell.  Greek Reporter, however has this:

According to the writer, even though archaeologists have proven that Troy was indeed burnt down, there is no significant evidence regarding the existence of the wooden horse that Greeks used to hide and pass the city gates. It was probably an “imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire arrows.”

It is perhaps ironic that one has to use a Latin phrase to describe the Greek Reporter‘s  fallacy here, but obviously it’s a non sequitur to infer that because there’s evidence of Troy being burned at some point, that the Trojan Horse part must be literally true.  But it gets worse. The next question to be dealt with is whether Homer actually existed. Dr D’Angour presents an answer which will  be familiar to anyone who has taken a first year Classical Civilization course (and plenty who haven’t):

Not only is the Trojan Horse a colourful fiction, the existence of Homer himself has sometimes been doubted. It’s generally supposed that the great epics which go under Homer’s name, the Iliad and Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing, some time in the 8th Century BC, the fruit of a tradition of oral minstrels stretching back for centuries.

While the ancients had no doubt that Homer was a real bard who composed the monumental epics, nothing certain is known about him. All we do know is that, even if the poems were composed without writing and orally transmitted, at some stage they were written down in Greek, because that is how they have survived.

Greek Reporter‘s response:

The article claims that Homer may in fact have never existed. His greatest works, Iliad and Odyssey were both composed orally under his name, but even though ancient Greeks were certain that he was the one who recited them, there is no actual way of knowing if that was the case.

Again, we are to infer that Greeks should be raising their ire at this. And yet, we probably should note that Greek Reporter pretty much said the same thing about Homer just a few months ago (10 of the Most Significant Writers of Ancient Greece:

[...]
He is mainly known for Iliad and Odyssey, the most famous epic poems. The Iliad is the oldest work of western literature. In ancient Greece, people considered themselves uneducated if they had not read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. What is odd is that there is no knowledge of Homer’s life to such an extent that historians dispute his existence.

Skipping something on the alphabet (which Greek Reporter also skipped), we proceed to the question of the Pythagorean theorem … Dr D’Angour:

It is doubtful whether Pythagoras (c. 570-495BC) was really a mathematician as we understand the word. Schoolchildren still learn his so-called theorem about the square on the hypotenuse (a2+b2 =c2). But the Babylonians knew this equation centuries earlier, and there is no evidence that Pythagoras either discovered or proved it.
Pythagoras

In fact, although genuine mathematical investigations were undertaken by later Pythagoreans, the evidence suggests that Pythagoras was a mystic who believed that numbers underlie everything. He worked out, for instance, that perfect musical intervals could be expressed by simple ratios.

… and Greek Reporter:

Even though schoolchildren around the world are taught the Pythagorean theorem during math class, d’Angour believes that the Babylonians had been using the theorem for centuries before Pythagoras even mentioned it.

The logic — if it can be called that — in that one is mind-boggling, and once again, we should point out that a couple of months ago, in a piece entitled Pythagoras: A Mysterious Personality, Religion and the Infamous Theorem, we read:

His mysterious personality was noticeable during his teaching; no notes and questions were allowed, that is why a great part of his works are lost. There is no additional information even on the renowned Pythagorean Theorem.

It is also not known if Pythagoras invented this theorem on his own or with the help of his students. The simple phrase saying that “the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides” was proven right before the Babylonians.

Skipping a few more (as does Greek Reporter) Dr D’Angour deals with the question of whether Alexander really was ‘great’. His brief assessment:

According to ancient sources, however, he was physically unprepossessing. Short and stocky, he was a hard drinker with a ruddy complexion, a rasping voice, and an impulsive temper which on one occasion led him to kill his companion Cleitus in a violent rage.
Alexander the Great

As his years progressed he became paranoid and megalomaniacal. However, in 10 short years from the age of 20 he forged a vast empire stretching from Egypt to India. Never defeated in battle, he made use of innovative siege engines every bit as as effective as the fabled Trojan Horse, and founded 20 cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in Egypt.

His military success was little short of miraculous, and in the eyes of an ancient world devoted to warfare and conquest it was only right to accord him the title of “Great”.

Greek Reporter ends their piece with:

Alexander may have been given the title “Great” but according to the article his character was far from that. In fact, the Oxford professor claims that he was a heavy drinker, a megalomaniac, paranoid, short man with a “rasping voice and impulsive temper” which even led him to kill one of his closest associates, Cleitus.

To which we can only say: So what?

Seriously, Greek Reporter? There is NOTHING in Dr D’Angour’s piece which should cause Greeks to take umbrage. Indeed, they should be grateful to Dr D’Angour and every Classicist who goes out of his or her regular academic duties to pen things in the popular press which are essentially promoting the study of the culture you claim is being disparaged. Until such time as you realize that we’re all on the same side, you’ll be continued to be dismissed as a feeder of trolls rather than a responsible promoter of a proud Greek heritage.