Metamorphoses Project: Tracing Myth Through Time and Place
Part 2A
Yeah, but what has he done for you lately?
Achilles in Modern Times
          "The Triumph of Achilles"
        In the story of Patroclus
        no one survives, not even Achilles
        who was nearly a god.
        Patroclus resembled him; they wore
        the same armor.
        Always in these friendships
        one serves the other, one is less than the other:
        the hierarchy
        is always apparent, though the legends
        cannot be trusted-
        their source is the survivor,
        the one who has been abandoned.
        What were the Greek ships on fire
        compared to this loss?
        In his tent, Achilles
        grieved with his whole being
        and the gods saw
        he was a man already dead, a victim
        of the part that loved,
        the part that was mortal.
    Gluck, Louise. The Triumph of Achilles. The Ecco Press, 1985. Page 16.
          "The Shield of Achilles"
          She looked over his shoulder
          for vines and olive trees,
        Marble well-governed cities,
        And ships upon untamed seas,
        But there on the shining metal
        His hands had put instead
        An artificial wilderness
        And a sky like lead.
        A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
        No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
        Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
        Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
        An unintelligible multitude.
        A million eyes, a million boots in line,
        Without expression, waiting for a sign.
        Out of the air a voice without a face
        Proved by statistics that some cause was just
        In tones as dry and level as the place:
        No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
        Column by column in a cloud of dust
        They marched away enduring a belief
        Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.
        She looked over his shoulder
        For ritual pieties,
        White flower-garlanded heifers,
        Libation and sacrifice,
        but there on the shining metal
        Where the altar should have been,
        She saw by his flickering forge-light
        Quite another scene.
        Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
        Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
        And sentries sweated, for the day was hot:
        A crowd of ordinary decent folk
        Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
        As three pale figures were led forth and bound
        To three posts driven upright in the ground.
        The mass and majesty of this world, all
        That carried weight and always weighs the same,
        Lay in the hands of others; they were small
        And could not hope for help and no help came:
        What their foes like to do was done, their shame
        Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
        And died as men before their bodies died.
        She looked over his shoulder
        For athletes at their games,
        Men and women in a dance
        Moving their sweet limbs
        Quick, quick, to music,
        But there on the shining shield
        His hands had set no dancing-floor
        But a weed-choked field.
        A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
        Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
        Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
        That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
        Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
        Of any world where promises were kept
        Or one could weep because another wept.
        The thin-lipped armorer,
        Hephaestos, hobbled away;
        Thetis of the shining breasts
        Cried out in dismay
        At what the god had wrought
        To please her son, the strong
        Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
        Who would not live long.
    Auden, W.H. The Shield Of Achilles. Random House, 1951. page 35.
PARADOX: Achilles and the Tortoise by Zeno
    Achilles and a tortoise have a race. The tortoise has a hundred yard start. The hero runs ten times as fast as the tortoise. Achilles can never overtake the tortoise because in the time it takes him to run the hundred yards to where the tortoise started, the tortoise has covered ten yards; while Achilles is covering those ten yards, the tortoise has gained another yard, and so on.
    The mathematician/philosopher Zeno uses Achilles' character in his paradox as a two-dimensional “fastest runner”. Despite the use of Achilles as a function in Zeno’s paradox, deep mythological commentary can be derived. In the context of Zeno’s story, Achilles is present to represent the fastest man alive, while the tortoise may represent immortality. Achilles is the faster runner, and his actions are most definitely godlike. Achilles can never reach the tortoise, just as no man can reach immortality. In any race, the tortoise always wins. Achilles deserves to be a god, based on the merit of a god; but immortality is not awarded to the deserving, it is awarded by fate. Zeno used Achilles to demonstrate a paradox, and he used mathematics and logic to comment on the legend of Achilles, thus furthering another paradox.
    Mercatante, Anthony S. Facts on File: The Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legends. Facts on File, 1988. page 10.
PLAY/SOUND RECORDING: Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Troylus and Cressida. Directed by Howard Sackler. Shakespeare Recording Society, 1962.
A more recent look at the Iliadic Achilles (written by Shakespeare in 1601), this performance of the Shakespearean play is available at the Cornell College Library in vinyl format. Achilles sulks in his tent until Patroclus' death, similar to Homer's version, but here he slays an unarmed Hector. How exciting to hear the Greek heroes converse in Shakespearean verse!

CHILDREN'S BOOK: Connolly, Peter. The Legend of Odysseus. Oxford University Press, 1994.

This is the children's version of the Greek myths about Achilles that are based on Homeric tradition. The stories of Achilles are fairly similar to those of The Iliad. One difference we did find is that Connolly leaves out Calchas the seer in his retelling of the tale of Achilles' and Agamemnon's quarrel over Briseis in the beginning chapter entitled "All Because of a Girl."

PAINTING: Achilles on the Island of Scyros by Poussin. 1653-1654.

    Mayerson, Philip. Classical Mythology in Literature, Arts, and Music. Xerox College Publications, 1971. page 394.
Achilles reveals his identity to Odysseus after being disguised as a girl during his childhood. The character's dress is elegant, with flowing robes. Much detail is given to the faces and bodies as in a Renaissance work.

DRAWING (above):The baptism of Achilles in the river Styx by Honore' Daumier. 1841-1842.

    Mayerson, Philip. Classical Mythology in Literature, Arts, and Music. Xerox College Publications, 1971. page 376.
Thetis kneels on the bank of a river and pulls her son out of the water. He is crying and has a pained look on his face. A crab has pinched his nose while he was underwater. What is interesting about this drawing is that the characters are not beautiful, but rather look haggard and crude. Thetis looks old and her hair is gray. She looks more like a witch than a goddess. This puts a twist on things because the drawing is entitled "Baptism."

PAINTING: Achilles Vanquishing Hecktor by Leefdael, J. van. 17th. century.

This painting shows Achilles killing Hecktor during the Battle of Troy. In the background, Athena helps Achilles destroy him.

A Limerick
by Suzi Grasshopper and Shannon Paul (two women)!
There once was a terror of Troy
who liked a Patricular boy.
Achilles and Pat
were much closer than that
for Pat was his fun little toy.
Using subtle humor, Ms. Grasshopper and Ms. Paul address Achilles’ rumored homosexual relations with Patroclus. The limerick, written in 1997, reflects an acceptance of gay lifestyles and calls for a reevaluation of our perhaps closed-minded look at prevalent homophobia in present day culture.

Back to Part 1.
Go on to Part 2B.

Last Update: 29 July 1999
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