Counselling Conversations
...turning things around

Email us or call
0131 225 4596

Myth and Heroes

Back when I was fourteen in 1977, the Stranglers sang about there being ‘No More Heroes’ any more. As a proposition, it was no truer then than it is now, although it was at a time of heroism being downgraded and falling in some ways out of fashion. I am old enough to remember, as a child, spending Sunday afternoons watching war films in black and white, colour not having arrived in our household till later, telling stories of remarkable courage and valour from the Second World War.

Stories retold and amplified in comics with titles such as the Victor and Commando, which my brother got and I would sometimes read. In these tales, it was not only important to be heroic but honourable; another notion which seems, when it comes to public life at least, to have almost disappeared. Yet, everywhere you look, from Harry Potter to Star Wars, heroism, honour and sacrifice lay hold of the imagination, providing modern day settings for the themes of ancient myths, in new dramas for our time.

They, as the old myths did, illuminate contemporary lives, providing rich stores of stories for understanding ourselves. In the case of the old myths, especially the ones presented in Greek drama, they allow us to draw open the curtains of psychology and pathology, and to see on stage, in performance some of what it means to be human now, in its rawness, its reasoning, its passion, its humour and its tragedy.

The Festival here in Edinburgh has brought this home to me on many occasions, perhaps no more so than this year at the 351st performance of ‘The Theatre of War.’ Conceived and facilitated by Bryan Doerries in America for the returning veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it uses the story of Ajax, as told by Sophocles in the drama of the same name, to speak across 2500 years. What is unspeakable to the returning veterans and their wives, finds recognition in the drama that allows their speech to flow and conversations to start so that life can begin again and not be fatally arrested. Which is what happens in the play when Ajax takes his own life, going off to the beach and falling on his sword, being unable to live with the loss of honour from everybody who matters - his superiors, his men, his father, his son and most fatefully himself. He cannot live with the man he may have become, after a murderous, slaughtering rampage. He cannot accommodate himself to the necessary reconstruction of his identity as an honourable man. So, it is with many veterans as the Theatre of War, in its sharing of stories of returning men and woman from war, makes clear. And, so it is in everyday life, where the mythic elements are unappreciated, unknown and therefore unavailable for self-reconstruction amid the hurts, humiliations and injustices of life with its inevitable moral and ethical complexities.

One person who illuminates this wonderfully well for me at the moment is Kate Tempest , whose poetry and music interweave stories of growing up in poorer parts of London with Greek myth. And it is these lives, like all lives where we see everyday courage, in getting on and finding ways to survive and hopefully ultimately live that are at the core of therapy, which like drama is about speech and action.?In this the therapist is witness, listener to a process, which is at the centre of Ajax in his self-dialogue before he kills himself. Bryan Doerries asked a question of us the audience, - what would you do if you saw your friend go like Ajax down to the beach? The answer we all seemed to come to was to listen gently and having sat a number of times alongside people looking to answer the question of living or dying by their own hand, the important thing is just that to listen with them, clear that you think that dying this way is wrong, while being accepting of all the pain, anguish and humiliation that they seek to express, until life starts to move them along, however tentatively, to live, to love and to action once more.