Learning About Combat Trauma From Homer’s Iliad with Dr. Jonathan Shay
Jonathan Shay, MD, PhD is a clinical psychiatrist whose treatment of combat trauma suffered by Vietnam veterans combined with his critical and imaginative interpretations of the ancient accounts of battle described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are deepening our understanding of the effects of warfare on the individual. His book, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994), draws parallels between the depiction of the epic warrior-hero Achilles and the experiences of individual veterans whom he treated at a Boston-area Veterans Affairs’ Outpatient Clinic. In Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2002), using Odysseus as metaphor, Shay focuses on the veteran’s experience upon returning from war and highlights the role of military policy in promoting the mental and physical safety of soldiers. A passionate advocate for veterans and committed to minimizing future psychological trauma, Shay strives for structural reform of the ways the U.S. armed forces are organized, trained, and counseled.
Respected by humanists and military leaders alike, Shay brings into stark relief the emotional problems faced by military combatants and veterans, ancient and modern. In 2007, he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his work with veterans.
This talk was part of the Literature & Medicine program’s national conference, After Shock: Humanities Perspectives on Trauma, held on November 12 & 13, 2010 in Washington, D.C.