Homer’s ‘Iliad’ Is Bringing Veterans Back to School
No homework. No tests. No assignments. Just a room full of veterans, and the famous tale of a Greek hero trying to make his way home. It’s a class called “Homer for Veterans,” and in the 10 years since Dartmouth professor Roberta Stewart dreamed the idea, The Iliad been luring returning veterans back to college.
Only 4 percent of undergraduates in America are veterans, and Stewart had a hunch that Homer’s classic would encourage comraderie and connection. The class, now being held at the University of Vermont in Burlington, currently has six students, all of whom will receive credit for participating.
Stewart says she was moved to create the class after witnessing a friend struggle after a stint in the military.
“It was a light bulb moment,” she tells WGBH. “I watched a soldier who was a very fine writer start to have troubles, and I said, ‘Read Homer. Homer knows.'”
The class is currently taught by clasic professor John Franklin at UVB. He says veterans find solace in the tale of loss and homecoming.
“He wanders at sea for ten years. He’s lost,” Franklin tells WGBH. “He goes through a number of adventures that can be interpreted allegorically as veterans’ experiences.”
The class serves as a form of group therapy. Stephanie Wobby, a 27-year-old former Army medic, said the poem is still powerful after nearly 3,000 years. “They went to war, and this is how they perished,” she tells WGBH. “This is what they did for their comrades.’ And it’s more relevant to me now than it was [in high school].”