Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Performance Reception of Sophocles’ Ajax

Emma Cole

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


Since the 1990s and the publication of psychiatrist Jonathan Shay’s influential Achilles in Vietnam (1994) and Odysseus in America (2002) classicists have debated the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in antiquity. Although within the academy we are no closer to a consensus, outside the ivory towers theatre practitioners have embraced the idea that ancient literature, and particularly Sophoclean tragedy, might feature veterans struggling with similar forms of combat trauma to that in the modern world. Their productions are often developed in collaboration with military personnel and their families and explore the potential of ancient tragedy to provide a type of performative therapy. This chapter explores two recent examples of the phenomenon: Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Ajax (2013) and Outside the Wire’s ‘Theatre of War’ project (2008 – present). I detail how both productions of Ajax attempt to redress combat trauma by contributing to the de-stigmitization of PTSD within the home, wider society, and the military, and argue that irrespective of the play’s function in antiquity, today Ajax exemplifies the potential therapeutic power of tragedy to mediate traumatic experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLooking at Ajax
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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