Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in a Age of Endless War

Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in a Age of Endless War

Robert Meagher presents a new translation of 'Herakles', Euripides' powerful drama about the trauma of war. A decorated veteran, Herakles must face a final enemy, but in his battle rage he murders his own family, unable to tell them apart. This ancient text retains a direct relevance in the modern world.

Reviews of the Herakles Gone Mad: Rethinking Heroism in a Age of Endless War

Is there some connection between these two incidents and a two and a half thousand year old play by Euripides about the ancient Greek's greatest hero returning home from war, descending into madness, and proceeding to kill the family he loves? Maegher has followed on from the work of Jonathan Shay, who wrote two books Achillies in Vietnam and Odysseus in America where he explores ancient literature to learn what the ancients had to say about the nature of combat trauma and how combat troops should be handled when they return home. Here Maegher is looking specifically at the concept of PTSD and flashbacks, particularly where a combat veteran begins to think that he is back at war and begins to act accordingly, usually with tragic consequences. As such I will look at a number of areas he explores: the inability of humans to kill another human, the connection between sex and violence, once a killer always a killer, the nature of war as a civilising exercise, and the difficulties of resettling combat troops. There are a number of points to make about the nature of war in the ancient times, but I will leave discussion of that until the end. However, it is clear that there were lots of casualties during the war, but it has been suggested that it was more likely due to disease, starvation, and indirect attacks such as with artillery and machineguns. I guess that that is why the nature of the army has changed these days, with most of the killing and fighting being performed by special forces (at least in Australia) and the regular army being little more than glorified police officers. Sex and Violence Now, war in the Ancient World is much different to war today. This is the nature of piercing because, in a way, the act of sex involved the piercing another person. It is a short jump, says Maegher, between the piercing that occurs during the act of sex and the piercing that occurs during hand to hand combat. As such, Maegher suggests, that the human is adverse to fighting and killing with a blade, especially as images of sex are conjured up during the combat, and thus he goes on to suggest that we would rather club somebody to death than stab them. However, it has been argued by some that humanities nature is to be at war with each other. Much has changed over the years though, and we are living in a period of peace where war only occurs on the fringes of our society. However, I would argue, that this is always the case: the core is at peace and war only occurs on the fringes. Unfortunately to fight that type of war we need killers, and as pointed out above, man, by nature, is not a killer, so they need to be turned into killers to do so. Bringing us to Herakles though, Maegher, as does Shay, argues that these plays and stories are allegories pointing to war and combat trauma, and how do deal with it. As such, the nature of combat trauma is more likely to be the province of the ordinary citizen than of the ruling class (and even in democratic Athens, there were the wealthy, highborn, ruling class). I was also going to mention the difficulty to resettling combat troops, but I guess I have also said a lot on that as well.

In the introduction and commentary, Meagher develops the argument that much of Greek drama functioned as communal therapy by and for combat veterans.

  • English

  • Nonfiction

  • Rating: 4.35
  • Pages: 152
  • Publish Date: March 29th 2006 by Olive Branch Press
  • Isbn10: 1566566355
  • Isbn13: 9781566566353