Veterans Reading Homer
by Nate Farbman
US Army (Retired)
I first heard about Eternal Soldier and the Veterans Read Homer workshop from a counselor I was seeing at the Philadelphia VA. I’d served in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry, saw combat, was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD, and I’d had a passing acquaintance with Homer that I was anxious to renew.
The book group I joined was comprised of military veterans, some of whom had seen combat in Vietnam or the Middle East, and others who had not. The numbers involved were kept at a manageable number and the workshop was facilitated by two classics scholars from the University of Pennsylvania who volunteered their time. I cannot say enough in praise of them; Drs. Sheila Murnaghan, PhD, and Kimberly Max Brown, PhD.
After an introductory session we read the essential parts of the Iliad over a two month period meeting weekly to discuss our reading. I cannot expect that others will have the same response I had and have. For what it’s worth, I found the experience absolutely terrific on several levels. First, a slow close reading allowed for a level of comprehension that was not obtained previously. Secondly, areas that were not easily understood would be clarified during our session together. One had only to ask. Not only were our two learned facilitators able to clarify when needed, but they added additional color and amplification to our understanding.
Several months later we began to read the Odyssey and I jumped in enthusiastically. Again our two facilitators led the way, and again, it was, for me, a terrific experience. Several vets from the Iliad group were joined by a few newcomers, and again, we were extremely fortunate to have both “Bridget” and Max donate their time and expertise to us.
After completing the Odyssey the facilitators began discussions on repeating the cycle, however, our group expressed an interest on moving forward and reading other works related to the Trojan War, and that is what we are doing. But, Eternal Soldier is not abandoning Homer’s two long epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey.
If you haven’t read them or read them ages ago, it is well worth your while to tackle them in the context of your military experience. In Vietnam, I was part of a Reconnaissance Platoon and although there was no such animal in the Trojan or Greek armies, there was occasional scouting. Your military background will enable a unique perspective to these classic works as you discuss them with new or old military friends.