By Miguel Aranas, Veteran, B.S. in Health Sciences
Some of Homer’s greatest works feature the soldier longing for home. In his work, The Odyssey, Odysseus, a hero of great renown, is featured to be the soldier not only looking for glory, but to ensure that he and his men return home to tell the great tales that they have made for themselves overseas. Naturally, Odysseus’ journey home was fated not to be simple; he and his men were plagued with challenges and problems with sirens, storms, and lands unknown.
As interesting and poetic as it is to listen to these stories, Homer must have had an inspiration that led his talented mind to create such a classic; and this must have been the experiences of the soldier of his time. Going to Greece and exploring these themes and reflecting them with my own experiences help light some of the similarities between Homer’s heroes of old and the modern soldier. Being able to go to Greece is a privilege by itself. Being able to go to Greece on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection with other members of the military is an honor of a lifetime. 20 veterans along with the veteran services staff of Stockton university go on an annual trip to Greece to expose the soldier to Greek culture and the sites that inspired Homer’s greatest works. Included in the itinerary are Athens, Nafplios, Olympia, Sparta, and Ithaki (Ithaca). These cities brought about the greatest inspiration of Greek culture.
Not only were we able to enjoy the cuisine and sights, but we were joined by a Native tour guide that specialized in the history of the cities and sites we were brought to. We were exposed to ancient sculptures, sites of old training grounds and areas of gathering in Ancient Greece. These included the old Olympic grounds of Olympia, the castle of Agamemnon, the caves of Ithaki, and the holy ground atop the valley of Sparta, where the last Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Constantine XI, was coronated. These sites were a testament to Ancient Greek themes such as war, glory, art, and the idea that these themes usually mixed to form Greek culture.
The sites that we visited also brought about ideas for self-reflection. Visiting the sites in Ithaki in particular, we were reminded with the story of Odysseus, a soldier, who valued his home above all. He was willing to fight tooth and nail just so he and his men can return home, which is not unlike the modern soldier. Ideas and stories of soldiers fighting and then going home to a normal life are commonplace in Greek culture, which is an idea that every modern soldier hopes to have when they return to their normal lives as well. Finally, there is the theme of protecting those you love, above all. Upon returning home, Odysseus is greeted to a home invaded by suitors to his wife and those who eat and drink his food.
This theme is comparable to modern day soldiers coming home to lives that keep going outside of his, despite the fact that the modern soldier has paused their lives in the name of their country. Though not a direct comparison, the suitors eating and drinking Odysseus’ house away are reflections of debt, unresolved problems, and broken families upon coming home for the modern soldier. These themes were all ideas that each member of the tour was able to reflect upon on the journey around Greece. The journey around Greece was also therapeutic and reinvigorating to the members of the tour. Not only were each member of the tour able to reflect on the themes of Homer’s great works, but we were also able to talk about and relate these ideas with each other, creating bonds that would last beyond the trip. Some members were even able to open up about their traumas during their time overseas and find some solace in the idea that they were not alone in these struggles, from those that came before them thousands of years in the past to those who were with them on the journey around Greece.
To the Pappas Family, this trip to Greece could not have been more supportive to the well-being of the veterans’ group of Stockton University. The opportunity to study abroad for two weeks also turned out to be a journey of self-discovery that myself and every veteran that has gone on the trip will be forever appreciative of.
Thank you for the opportunity.