In modern times, large-scale mechanized conflicts have increased both the numbers of individuals in combat and the traumatic nature of that combat. The first well-known occurrence is the frequent diagnosis of “shell shock” WW1. The term ‘battle fatigue’ arose around 1944. The designation ‘PTSD’ arose around 1978 in relation to veterans who’d served in Vietnam.
Although the nomenclature may change, the phenomenon itself must have been around for millennia. Some scholars see a description of PTSD in Lady Percy’s soliloquy, found in Act II, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1.
Going back further, the personalities of some of Virgil’s characters seem to be impacted by PTSD. Aeneas displays, e.g., seemingly uncontrollable fits of rage and sleeplessness.
Seven or eight centuries before Virgil wrote the Aeneid, Homer wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad, around 750 BC, although precise dates for Homeric composition are difficult and controversial.
Homer’s characters display questionable judgment and substance abuse in ways compatible with a diagnosis of PTSD.
Understanding the psychological aftereffects of combat may prove to be a useful interpretive tool for various works of world literature.