This Day in Ancient History:

ante diem xii kalendas septembres

  • Consualia — festival involving games/chariot races in honour of Consus and other assorted divinities; one of the races apparently featured chariots pulled by mules
  • 753 B.C.(?) – rape of the Sabine women (which traditionally happened during the celebration of the above)

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?

Quick Amphipolis Update: Significant Fragments

Quickly reading (or more properly, google translating) some of the Greek press this a.m., it appears some significant finds were made yesterday as they cleared the door. The skinny: the sphinxes are made of marble from Thassos, archaeologists found the detached  wing of one of them, and perhaps even more important, a bit of the back of the Lion of Amphipolis were also found. Here’s the brief bit from News247 which mentions all this:

Η πλήρης αποκάλυψη των μαρμάρινων Σφιγγών που βρέθηκαν στον Τύμβο Καστά στην Αμφίπολη, η εύρεση τμήματος από τη ράχη του Λέοντος, καθώς και μικρού τμήματος της ανωδομής του μνημείου, είναι τα νέα δεδομένα από τις ανασκαφές που διεξάγει η ΚΗ΄ Εφορεία Προϊστορικών και Κλασικών Αρχαιοτήτων στην περιοχή, σύμφωνα με ανακοίνωση του υπουργείου Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού.

… and here’s the sphinxes … Ministry of Culture photo:

Ministry of Culture photo via in.gr
Ministry of Culture photo via in.gr

Photo via: Αμφίπολη: Εντυπωσιάζουν οι Σφίγγες στην είσοδο του αρχαίου τάφου (in.gr)

 

UPDATE (a few hours later): an excerpt from eKathimerini’s coverage:

[…]

The two sphinxes, which apart from being headless also have broken wings, are believed to have been crafted “by the same hands” as those which made a 16-foot-tall marble lion which is thought to have sat atop the burial site, archaeologists working on the dig told Kathimerini.

The sphinxes, each weighing around 1.5 tons and with traces of red coloring on their feet, will not be removed from the entrance to the tomb as archaeologists clear away stones and earth to gain access.

The sphinxes are 1.45 meters high and would have been 2 meters high with their heads, the Culture Ministry said in a statement.

Pieces of the sphinxes’ wings were found on the site, as was a large section of the back of the lion sculpture, archaeologists said.

Experts working on the excavation were also examining a section of the tomb wall which bears traces of red and blue coloring, in two shades. A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.

A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.

Technical work began on Monday at the tomb to avert any structural damage as archaeologists attempt to enter the tomb and discover what lies inside.

Some experts believe the site has been raided in the past but archaeologists cannot yet confirm this. […]

… I wonder if the mosaic is a pebble mosaic or proper tesserae …

Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews ~ 08/20/14

 

  • 2014.08.35:  Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz, Taxing Freedom in Thessalian Manumission Inscriptions. Mnemosyne supplements. History and archaeology of classical antiquity, 361.
    2014.08.34:  Thomas F. Tartaron, Maritime Networks in the Mycenaean World.
    2014.08.33:  Rosaria Vignolo Munson, Herodotus: Volume 2, Herodotus and the World. Oxford readings in classical studies.
    2014.08.32:  Ilenia Achilli, Le ali di Clio. Massimo di Tiro e il pensiero storico classico. Biblioteca di Sileno, 5.
    2014.08.31:  Michele Alessandrelli, Il problema del λεκτόν nello stoicismo antico: origine e statuto di una nozione controversa. Lessico Intellettuale Europeo, 121
  • 2014.08.30:  Leonid Zhmud, Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans. (Translated from Russian by Kevin Windle and Rosh Ireland; first published 1994).