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The Nostoi, which once told the homecoming stories of the Greek heroes from the war at Troy, is long lost. Of the original text’s five books, only five complete lines have survived. Like the lives that it chronicled, the Nostoi is itself a casualty of time and its unpredictable turns. The truth is that most veterans’ stories, whether of combat or of recovery, are either never told or not long remembered. The exceptions admittedly stand tall and shine: Achilles, Odysseus, Hector, Ajax, Herakles, to name a few of the most radiant. Even so, the numbered and named seem negligible when measured against the numberless and the nameless.

The wonder is that the few surviving ancient accounts of combat and its aftermath still reveal and preserve the truth and the trauma of the warrior’s experience, then and now. The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, the Seven Against Thebes of Aeschylus, the Ajax of Sophokles, and the Herakles of Euripides, to cite some of the most transparent examples, had and have never lost the ring of truth for veterans. This comes as no surprise. Most ancient Greek poets knew war first-hand, close up, from youth to senescence, if they were fortunate enough to reach the latter. We live in what our political leaders have proclaimed to be an age of endless war and so a time of endless returns, of homecomings. Every day, every week, citizen-soldiers leave the chaos of combat and make their way back to the lives they left behind. For many, like Odysseus, the road home will be the longest, most arduous journey of their lives. For others, like Herakles, it will end in disaster. Their stories, like the Nostoi of the veterans of Troy, unless they hold the headlines for a day or two, are lost before they are told. Many, however, are able to hear their stories told, their sufferings acknowledged, their muffled cries echoed in the epics of Homer and the Athenian playwrights.

It is a truism that wars are divisive. All too often they divide not only enemies, but also fellow citizens, generations, and sometimes even families and friends. In all of this the human face and voice of veterans can be lost. Those who have taken life, whatever the cause, become dehumanized in the eyes of those who have not. Their stories are unwelcome, while their silence is unsettling. Their wounds, especially those within, whether healed or not, remain concealed. Loved ones want to understand everything but hear very little. Not so Penelope, in the Odyssey. After twenty years of separation, Homer tells us, she sat in bed and listened through the night, sleepless, while her husband told her everything, the whole tale, every last story. Only then, we are told, sleep overtook him, and lifted him from his cares.

Cognizant of the turbulent times in which we live and convinced of the enduring relevance and healing force of ancient literature, Hampshire College, together with the Five Colleges, in special collaboration with the Veterans Education Project and the American Friends Service Committee, will offer in the spring of 2006 an extensive series of public lectures, exhibits, films, workshops, readings and seminars on the theme of Nostoi, homecomings from war, ancient and contemporary. Our aim in all of this is twofold: to promote public appreciation of the terrible realities of war, and to foster a climate and a community of understanding, support, and welcome for those who are returning and will return from war to our communities, schools, and homes in the Pioneer Valley and beyond.