Reading Group Hosted for Veterans

Andrew Corliss, Reporter

Warriors from the stories of ancient Greece and Rome can help with the distress and trauma faced by modern soldiers say two Marshall professors who have created an unusual study group for military veterans.
“If you read about a war that was very distant in time and space, it kind of helps the veterans process their own experiences because it’s not as close to them,” said Dr. Christina Franzen. 

Franzen runs the “Wars Within, Wars Without” reading program for veterans with her colleague Robin Conley Rider of Marshall’s anthology department.
For some of today’s veterans, Franzen added, “It’s really hard to personalize this stuff and talk about it in that way. So, we’re trying to funnel their reflections through the characters.” 

Starting Feb. 19, Marshall’s “Wars Within, Wars Without” program will host a series of biweekly reading group meetings for veterans to better process and understand their experiences. The event welcomes any veterans in the area and is exclusively reserved for them, creating a confidential and safe space for discussion.
Though multiple texts will be used, the group will strongly focus on the Pharsalia by Roman poet Lucan. The epic poem describes the Roman civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, distinguished by its powerful, violent imagery and melancholy depiction of the conflicted Roman Empire.
“There’s a certain cathartic element of Lucan that takes hold of you entirely,” Franzen said. “He’s very emotive, especially in the actual battle scene between Pompey and Caesar. Lucan’s text is incredibly excessive—it just bleeds out blood, pain and gore, but it’s contained within epic conventions. You’re able to experience this ancient pain through a contained version of it, which is incredibly comforting in a weird way.”  

The “Wars Within, Wars Without” program began when a veteran machine gunner related strongly to Lucan’s text during a seminar on death and dying in 2016. Inspired by this experience, anthropology professor Dr. Rider worked with Dr. Franzen to acquire a grant for “Dialogues on the Experience of War” and brought the program to fruition. They have previously developed a training program and semester-long course in which they worked with three generations of veterans to cultivate discussion. A small dose of Latin was also taught to better understand the texts.  “On the first day of our training session, the guys from Vietnam said that they didn’t want to talk about their experience. They got a lot of backlash from doing it back in the ’70s,” Conley said. “Fast forward to when we taught our semester-long course, where they came every session and just started talking. It was just so great.”
The discussions happen on a biweekly basis from 10 a.m. to noon. The first event will take place at the Vandalia Crowd House on 3rd Ave. Subsequent meetings will meet the Huntington Vet Center located on 16th Street Road.
The discussion groups will wrap up in April with a lecture on moral injury from Brian Power, a divinity scholar and Air Force operations veteran. This event will be open to the public.