Part 2B: Analyzing Recent Myths
Many of the more recent sources of stories about Achilles were created by people living in predominantly Christian societies. The myths are understood through the eyes of Christianity and may be retold with the same religious perspective.
In Poussin's painting, the characters were portrayed as very godlike, characteristic of most Renaissance art. There are characters standing and characters kneeling, and the focus is on those who are illuminated in the center of the painting by a light from above. While influenced by Christian ideology, there are definitely aspects of Greek and Roman art included. The woman standing over Achilles (who is dressed as a woman), appears to be pregnant; presumably, she is Lycomedes' daughter and the child belongs to Achilles. The column in the background is somewhat out of place and appears to be a phallic symbol, pointing out Achilles' true sex. The scene portrayed is the moment that Achilles' gender identity is revealed, and Odysseus has come to lead him to Troy to fight, and eventually die. This could be compared to the soldiers that come to take Jesus to his crucifixion. The sides of the painting that surround the light from the "heavens" are dark and foreboding, symbolizing Achilles leaving his protected paradise.
As another example of Christian beliefs in comparison to Achilles' pagan beliefs, Daumier's drawing depicts the "baptism" of Achilles. The scene is that of Thetis dipping Achilles into the river Styx to immortalize him. However, neither mother nor son are beautified as in Iliadic tales. Rather, they are portrayed as ugly and haggard. This gives the impression that the artist does not approve of the action taking place and does not esteem the characters as other works (such as Poussin's) do. The appearance of the crayfish on Achilles' nose is not consistent with the Greek versions of the story. Perhaps this symbolizes Thetis being punished or chastised for attempting to make her son immortal, thus trying to go against God's will and keep him from death. Achilles himself is punished as well, because the drawing still shows Thetis holding her son by the ankle,emphasizing his weakness and foreshadowing his demise.
The poem " The Shield of Achilles" is also a work that prophecizes Achilles' impending doom. The main character is Thetis searching for signs of prosperity and happiness on the shield. She finds only desolation. The author describes "three pale figures. . . led forth and bound to three posts driven upright in the ground." These figures may symbolize Achilles, Patroclus, and Hector. While these men were not bound to posts, this reference may allude to Jesus and the two thieves being nailed to crosses. In both cases, the mothers (Thetis and Mary) mourn their sons' impending deaths; but no matter how powerful the women are, they cannot save their children from fate and the decisions made by god(s).
Why this particular metaphor was created by Auden is somewhat unclear. The religious comparisons may have been a personal choice for the author, or written as a method of bringing new interest to classical mythology. He does this by adapting the Greek version to a Christian viewpoint to assimilate it into his own culture.
Van Leefdael's 17th century work, "Achilles Vanquishing Hecktor" is very true to the Homeric depiction of the battle between the two men. The scene is definitely Greco-Roman, with the men appearing larger than life, in helmets and flowing robes. Athena floats above the scene to remind us of the importance of the gods' power and whims. The columns wrapped in flowers create a border around the picture and essentially help to glorify the fight and the men themselves. It seems that Van Leefdael's purpose is not only to honor the warriors, but to remind his society of the greatness of the true versions of mythological tales. He accomplishes this without adapting the tale to fit his own culture.
Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Troylus and Cressida is a play about the consequences of love. Shakespeare tells a different story of Achilles' death than that of Homer. In the play, Achilles goes to Troy to take Polyxena away, in return for calling off the Greeks' seige of Troy. When he gets to the palace, he is killed by the Trojans. This story simply follows the theme of the play and demonstrates the tragedy that love can cause. Shakespeare frequently wrote about historical figures (Julius Caesar, King Henry and King Richard). This play is another example of Shakespeare's historical drama, focusing on Greek figures and legends.
Louise Gluck's poem, "The Triumph of Achilles" also focuses on love and the tragedies associated with it. Achilles' triumph is not that of honor in battle, but of truly loving another person and avenging his death. "The source is the survivor" is talking about love and how love survives mortal man. Eternal love is only met through mortality. The grief and pain of Achilles were caused by "the part that was mortal , the part that loved." Some versions of the myth on the life of Jesus include a story about a ressurection. The idea of the "ressurection" is that through loving all things eternally that Jesus lives on through death. Also by his dying or coming to terms with mortality this eternal love is realized. The same is true of Patroclus' death with Achilles, according to this Christian poet..
The Christian value of love has replaced the Homeric emphasis on honor, valor, courage, and victory in battle. These works present Achilles as much more human, much more vulnerable, a and much more forgivable character than the previous ones. They explore the emotional side of the events in Achilles' life, rather than the Homeric ideals.

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