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The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek…
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The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today

by Bryan Doerries

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This was one of those serendipitous finds that can change the direction of one's reading. I picked up an issue of Smithsonian Magazine and there was an article entitled "The Healing Power of Greek Tragedy" (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/healing-power-greek-tragedy-180965220/) about Doerries' Theater of War, a pick-up group of well-known actors who do dramatic readings before veterans, soldiers and families; victims of riots and natural disasters; wardens and prison personnel; medical and hospice staff; and others. Doerries, a trained classical philologist, does most of the translations himself, tailoring them to bring out the emotions of those in the audience, and each performance is followed by discussion and sharing, sometimes for hours. His goal is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". Doerries was recently named New York City’s Public Artist in Residence. The Theater of War website is http://theaterofwar.com/, and at http://theaterofwar.com/cast you can see the phenomenal group of actors who work with Doerries, some from the beginning in 2008.

Doerries believes that the tragedies were written and performed to help the citizen-soldiers of Athens deal with just the sort of issues our own military faces today: PTSD, madness, suicide, feelings of betrayal, anger and guilt. All citizens were male and were required to serve in the endless wars Athens fought during this time (Sophocles would have been a general at this time). The performances were held in huge amphitheaters (frequently next to medical facilities, where they could be heard) so the citizen-soldiers could experience them together. Doerries describes his group's development and their first efforts to reach out to the military and prison systems, and intertwines these with excerpts from his own translations that illustrate specific reactions from soldiers and their families, prison staff, the dying and their caregivers, and the residents of Ferguson, among others. His descriptions of trips to Guantanamo and to various prison settings are especially eye-opening. The group has expanded its repertoire to reach out to other communities in crisis, and many of these projects can be read about on the website.

This is a moving and galvanizing book, sure to be of interest to those in crisis or working/living with someone who is. I think it will also be of great interest to those interested in Greek tragedy in general. Doerries has also published translations of four of the plays most used by the group: Sophocles' "Ajax", "Philoctetes", and "Women of Trachis"; and Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound". These translations are collected in "All That You've Seen Here Is God". For anyone with access to Brooklyn Public Library, both books are available as ebooks. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Nov 11, 2017 |
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People have always endeavored to understand antiquity by means of the present - and shall the present now be understood by antiquity ? Friedrich Nietzsche, We Philologists
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Standing before a crowd of war-weary infantry soldiers after a reading of Sophocles's Ajax on a U.S. Army installation in southwestern Germany, I posed the following question, one that I have asked tens of thousands of service members and veterans on military bases all over the world: "Why do you think Sophocles wrote this play?"
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307959457, Hardcover)

This is the personal and deeply passionate story of a life devoted to reclaiming the timeless power of an ancient artistic tradition to comfort the afflicted. For years, theater director Bryan Doerries has led an innovative public health project that produces ancient tragedies for current and returned soldiers, addicts, tornado and hurricane survivors, and a wide range of other at-risk people in society.

Drawing on these extraordinary firsthand experiences, Doerries clearly and powerfully illustrates the redemptive and therapeutic potential of this classical, timeless art: how, for example, Ajax can help soldiers and their loved ones better understand and grapple with PTSD, or how Prometheus Bound provides new insights into the modern penal system. These plays are revivified not just in how Doerries applies them to communal problems of today, but in the way he translates them himself from the ancient Greek, deftly and expertly rendering enduring truths in contemporary and striking English.
 
The originality and generosity of Doerries’s work is startling, and The Theater of War—wholly unsentimental, but intensely felt and emotionally engaging—is a humane, knowledgeable, and accessible book that will both inspire and enlighten. Tracing a path that links the personal to the artistic to the social and back again, Doerries shows us how suffering and healing are part of a timeless process in which dialogue and empathy are inextricably linked.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 31 Aug 2015 12:58:16 -0400)

"For years, theater director Bryan Doerries has led an innovative public health project that produces ancient tragedies for current and returned soldiers, addicts, tornado and hurricane survivors, and a wide range of other at-risk people in society. Drawing on these extraordinary firsthand experiences, Doerries clearly and powerfully illustrates the redemptive and therapeutic potential of this classical, timeless art: how, for example, Ajax can help soldiers and their loved ones better understand and grapple with PTSD, or how Prometheus Bound provides new insights into the modern penal system."--Jacket flap.… (more)

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