"I was the bravest in battle - I never lost my wits"
September 21, 2014 9:42 PM   Subscribe

In 2008, Outside the Wire, a theater company, began productions of Sophocles' Ajax and Philoctetes to audiences of soldiers and marines returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
And whither must I go? What end, what purpose Could urge thee to it? I am nothing, lost And dead already. Wherefore- tell me, wherefore?- Am I not still the same detested burthen, Loathsome and lame? Again must Philoctetes Disturb your holy rites? If I am with you How can you make libations? That was once Your vile pretence for inhumanity. Oh! may you perish for the deed! The gods Will grant it sure, if justice be their care And that it is I know. You had not left Your native soil to seek a wretch like me Had not some impulse from the powers above, Spite of yourselves, ordained it. O my country! And you, O gods! who look upon this deed, Punish, in pity to me, punish all The guilty band! Could I behold them perish, My wounds were nothing; that would heal them all.

The series is called Theater of War.
Greek Tragedy, Modern Relevance in 'Theater of War'

The Anguish of War for Today’s Soldiers, Explored by Sophocles
The ancient Greeks had a shorthand for the mental anguish of war, for post-traumatic stress disorder and even for outbursts of fratricidal bloodshed like last week’s shootings at Fort Hood. They would invoke the names of mythological military heroes who battled inner demons: Achilles, consumed by the deaths of his men; Philoctetes, hollowed out from betrayals by fellow officers; Ajax, warped with so much rage that he wanted to kill his comrades.
NEA: Theater of War, Sophocles Take on PTSD

What can ancient Greek tragedies written nearly 2500 years ago by general officer and playwright named Sophocles say to us now that can help us face some of the most morally complex issues of our time. There is a theory that storytelling, the most ancient technology of them all, was born from a need to hear and tell the soldier's story.

Sophocles' Ajax at Vassar

Soldiers and Citizens present AJAX. Imagine my surprise.

TOW on PBS, extended interview: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In Ancient Dramas, Vital Words For Today's Warriors. War is Hell, as the Greeks well knew
Three scenes from two plays by Sophocles, Ajax and Philoctetes, were then read—plays that have the most overt references to P.T.S.D. Ajax tells the story of a general whose mind is “infected by divine madness,” as the play describes it—a man who falls from being the greatest warrior who lived to being a “killer of cows” that he mistakes for enemies. He feels abandoned by his men, isolated from his wife, and alone in a world he has fought to protect. Philoctetes tells a similar story of a soldier marooned on an island, abandoned by those closest to him when they decided that a snakebite injury had rendered him useless.
Previously
posted by the man of twists and turns (14 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ahhhhh one of my favorite college seminars was on the classics and warfare; this is still one of the most interesting projects in modern classical studies, and certainly one of the most powerful. I don't know it's mentioned and I missed it, but From Melos to My Lai is another look at ancient war and modern warfare. There's a review here with some additional thoughts and additional reading. Dulce et decorum est...
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:12 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Those are good choices for war plays.
posted by grobstein at 10:22 PM on September 21, 2014


Sophocles was apparently a warrior, as well.

He was an extraordinarily prolific artist, and extraordinarily successful. We are deeply unfortunate to have only 7 of his 134 plays, but we are deeply fortunate to have the ones we do.
posted by grobstein at 10:27 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Loved this piece in Harper's, so I look forward to exploring the other links you included. Thanks for the post.
posted by Corduroy at 12:09 AM on September 22, 2014


Sophocles was apparently a warrior, as well.

Well, he was an Athenian citizen - any able-bodied citizen of the democracy would be expected to serve in the military if required*, and since Athens was pretty consistently at war on and off throughout the 5th century many adult Athenian men would have some experience of combat. But Sophocles also possibly served as a strategos - one of the ten military leaders of the polis - in his later years, although those offices were based on a mix of esteem for military prowess, personal popularity and patronage rather than necessarily being purely about martial prowess...
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:45 AM on September 22, 2014


Any reason they're not using a modern-English translation? If they're trying to make a contemporary connection it seems odd to use "thee"s and "wherefore"s.
posted by rikschell at 4:09 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


"...for the gods by that one's loveliness joined Troy and Hellas in battle, causing death so that they might draw off from the earth the outrage of unstinting numbers of mortals."

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0116%3Acard%3D1625
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:21 AM on September 22, 2014


rikschell: "Any reason they're not using a modern-English translation? If they're trying to make a contemporary connection it seems odd to use "thee"s and "wherefore"s."

If King James was good enough for Sophocles!
posted by symbioid at 8:06 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


What rikschell said. Why the fuck would you use a version with absurd lines like "And whither must I go?" and "Wherefore- tell me, wherefore?" for a 21st-century audience? It didn't sound like that to the Greeks and it shouldn't sound like that to us. Were they too cheap to get the rights to a good modern translation?
posted by languagehat at 8:32 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Any reason they're not using a modern-English translation?
Why the fuck would you use a version with absurd lines like "And whither must I go?" and "Wherefore- tell me, wherefore?" for a 21st-century audience?

I apologize, my construction of the post appears to have misled you into thinking that was the version used.

You can view part of the performances, readings, by clicking on some of the other links.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:50 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the translation issue: if it's anything like the opera world, copyright may be a factor. This production may not have the budget to pay for the rights to a recent translation, while the older ones will be public domain and thus free.
posted by Pallas Athena at 9:37 AM on September 22, 2014


What rikschell said. Why the fuck would you use a version with absurd lines like "And whither must I go?" and "Wherefore- tell me, wherefore?" for a 21st-century audience? It didn't sound like that to the Greeks and it shouldn't sound like that to us. Were they too cheap to get the rights to a good modern translation?

It may also be a deliberate choice. Going to war and coming back makes you feel forever a stranger, a foreigner, in your own land - like even the language itself has changed without you. You are out of time, out of understanding. Everything is different and vaguely alien.

If I were putting this on, I would make the choice to use an older translation, to signify this sense of alienation.
posted by corb at 10:20 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


You make going to war and coming back sound a lot like having a nervous breakdown, corb.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:37 PM on September 22, 2014


The passage quoted in the FPP is from Thomas Francklin's translation. This is not the version being used in these readings, which is a new translation (or an adaptation, really) by Bryan Doerries, the head of the project.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:37 AM on September 23, 2014


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