PTSD

An article from the BBC, courtesy my friend Alex Lesk Blomerus:

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Post-traumatic stress ‘evident in 1300BC’

By James Gallagher

Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder can be traced back to 1300BC – much earlier than previously thought – say researchers.

The team at Anglia Ruskin University analysed translations from ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia.

Accounts of soldiers being visited by “ghosts they faced in battle” fitted with a modern diagnosis of PTSD.

The condition was likely to be as old as human civilisation, the researchers concluded.

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former consultant clinical psychologist for the Ministry of Defence, said the first description of PTSD was often accredited to the Greek historian Herodotus.

Referring to the warrior Epizelus during the battle of Marathon in 490BC he wrote: “He suddenly lost sight of both eyes, though nothing had touched him.”

But Prof Hughes’ report – titled Nothing New Under the Sun – argues there are references in the Assyrian Dynasty in Mesopotamia between 1300BC and 609BC.

In that era men spent a year being toughened up by building roads, bridges and other projects, before spending a year at war and then returning to their families for a year before starting the cycle again.

Prof Hughes told the BBC News website: “The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we would call now post-traumatic stress symptoms.

“They described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, who would be the ghosts of people they’d killed in battle – and that’s exactly the experience of modern-day soldiers who’ve been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.”

A diagnosis and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder emerged after the Vietnam War. It was dismissed as shell shock in World War One.

Prof Hughes said: “As long as there has been civilisation and as long as there has been warfare, there has been post-traumatic symptoms. It’s not a 21st Century thing.”

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It would have been nice if they had named and actually quoted the sources pointing to this. Note that the headline claims PTSD was “evident in 1300 BC”, and the article says it was during the Assyrian empire, “between 1300 and 609 BC.” My hunch is that the sources are probably from the later end of that span, perhaps contained in some of the 20,000 cuneiform tablets excavated at Nineveh and now in the British Museum.

(Groundbreaking work on the topic of historical PTSD was done by Jonathan Shay in his 1994 book, Achilles in Vietnam, which examined veterans of combat in Vietnam in light of the characters in Homer’s Iliad.)

Speaking of cuneiform, I recommend Irving Finkel’s The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, which my wife got me for Christmas.