'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

10 October 2010


Although Achilles was not a god he was one of the last offspring of a god coupling with a mortal. The goddess tried to make him immortal and his life was ordained by prophesy and constant interference from the gods. Unlike the mature images often seen in films, he left for the Trojan wars when he was no more than fifteen and, as prophesised, he died young during that ten year battle.
As a son of a mortal Peleus, and the sea-goddess Thetis, Achilles has a special status among the Greek heroes of the Trojan War. The War had its genesis at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. All the Gods except Discord were invited. Angered, she threw a golden apple amidst the guest inscribed 'For the fairest'. When Hera, Aphrodite and Athena all claimed the prize, Zeus not willing to get involved sent for the young and handsome Paris to make the choice. All three attempted to bribe him, but it was to Aphrodite, who had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, that he gave the prize, thus making the others his enemies. The woman was Helen. (note, this also indicate Achilles youth.)

"Let her accept a mortal's bed, and see her son die in battle, a son who is like Ares in the strength of his hands and like lightning in the swift prime of his feet. My counsel is to bestow this god-granted honour of marriage on Peleus son of Aeacus, who is said to be the most pious man living on the plain of Iolcus."  Themis to the gods.

Thetis tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx, but she held him by the heel, which never got wet, and there it was that the fatal arrow hit him. Others say that she plunged him into fire hoping to make him immortal like herself, but his father, Peleus, king of Phthia, came into the room and interrupted her. Achilles grew to be the bravest, handsomest and swiftest of the heroes. Thetis tells her son that he has two possible paths ahead of him, either a long life without glory, or a short life with glory. She abandoned both son and husband, but continued to intervene in the affairs of Achilles as also did Apollo and Athena
Achilles was given by his father to be brought up by the the most famous 'good' centaur, Cheiron, the immortal centaur who was wounded by Herakles and allowed by Zeus to give up his immortality rather than live in agony for eternity. Cheiron was also entrusted with the upbringing of the young Jason. When Achilles was nine years old, the seer Calchas, whom Agamemnon has called the prophet of evil, declared that Troy could not be taken without him. When Thetis realised that Achilles would die in the war she, disguised him as a girl and gave him to king Lycomedes as Achilles' sister Pyrrha. The disguise  was uncovered by Odysseus, so at fifteen years of age, Achilles 
"who was in the first flower and pubescency of his youth, and the handsomest of all the Greeks."

 became a General and leader of the Myrmidons, against Troy in the war that lasted ten years in Homer's tale.
Today it is becoming more believable that Troy did exist and that the Mycenaeans had attacked them for about two hundred years not just the ten years of the Iliad. Troy was aligned with the powerful Hittites who are believed to have called it Wilusia as indicated by surviving clay tablets. The Greeks under powerful Mycenae envied the wealth of the coastal towns across the Aegean  and this is suggested as the real cause of the wars. When Heinrich Schliemann gauged a huge trench trough a hill in northern Turkey 1871-1891 he is thought to have unearthed a great rich city which was destroyed around 1200 BC, the assumed time of Homer's story. He had dug through nine layers of a walled but gateless citadel spanning four thousand years of civilisation but the remains of layer six is now thought to be the one he was searching for. The renowned jewels he found probably came from a time a thousand years before the story of Troy. Although the hill fortress was small it was discovered in 1988 that this was just the central enclosure or citadel of a much larger and lower walled city which would have been closer to the sea in that period and could have housed several thousand people in the late bronze age, at the time of the 'Trojan Wars'.

Patroclus     "Male varlet, you rogue! What's that?"  
Thersites   "Why, his masculine whore." -Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida.

Patroclus was the great friend of Achilles. They had been companions from childhood when an old friend of his father, came to the court of King Peleus to seek refuge. His young son, Patroclus, had fought with a boy over a game of  dice, and accidentally killed him. Later Peleus held holy ceremony and purified Patroclus of his crime. The youth was appointed squire to Achilles. They soon became the best of friends, and later lovers. In praying to the gods, Achilles would ask them to rid the world of all mankind, except for Patroclus and himself. Patroclus was one of the suitors who joined the war to rescue Helen from Troy.
Lover and Beloved
" And great was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus - his lover and not his love  (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far). And greatly as the gods honour the virtue of love, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and valued and rewarded by them, for the lover has a nature more divine and worthy of worship. Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector. Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only on his behalf, but after his death. Wherefore the gods honoured him even above Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest."  Plato’s Symposium
Death of Patroclus
'Dress yourself in my (Achilles) glorious armour and lead my battle loving Myrmidons into the field...............   .........Patroclus put on the shimmering bronze. He began by tying round his legs the splendid greaves, which were fitted with silver clips for the ankles. Next he put on his breast Achilles beautiful cuirass, scintillating like the stars. Over his shoulders he slung the bronze sword, with its silver-studded hilt, and then the great thick shield. On his sturdy head he set the well-made helmet. It had a horsehair crest and the plume nodded grimly from on top. Last he picked up two powerful spears which suited his grip.' Homer's Iliad 

"The Achaeans will fall among the ships of Achilles and he shall send his comrade  whom  shall Hector slay before the face of Troy. And in wrath for Patroclus shall Achilles slay Hector. Then from that time forth shall I cause a driving back of the Trojans from the ships until the Achaeans shall take Troy. But until that hour neither do I refrain my wrath, nor will I suffer any other of the immortals to aid the Achaeans, until Achilles' desire be fulfilled, as I promised on the day when Thetis clasped my knees, beseeching me to do honour to Achilles." - Zeus from Homer's Iliad 

 The great love they had for each other exploded in Achilles' anger at the death of his lover while he was wearing Achilles armour. When Achilles heard the news he cried and rolled in the dust with grief. His friends brought back Patroclus' body, but he would not let them bury it. He lay down on top of it, holding it in his arms, sobbing helplessly. Thetis, came to comfort him: "My child, how long will you keep on crying your eyes out in sorrow, forgetting food and sleep? It is a good thing to lie in love with women too." But Achilles could think of nothing but his lost companion, crying "You had no consideration for my pure reverence of your thighs, ungrateful after all our frequent kisses."
Death of Achilles
Heaven had decided that Achilles would die shortly after Hector's death. Achilles had  not been able to save Patroclus  from death so he plunged back into battle, routing the Trojans and slaying Hector, their general and the oldest son of King Priam, then Paris, Hector's brother, pierced his heel with a poisoned arrow guided by Apollo. Thus the prophesy was fulfilled, and Achilles' died. The ashes of Achilles and Patroclus were mixed together in a golden urn, and buried in a common tomb.     
 Achilles fell in love many times. One  was his enemy Troilus, the nineteen year old son of Priam, the King of Troy. It had been foretold that if he lived to the age of twenty, Troy would not fall. Achilles was overtaken with desire for him as they were fighting."I will kill you, unless you yield to my caresses,"  he threatened. The youth refused, and ran to hide inside a temple of Apollo, but Achilles barged in, and since the young man still resisted, beheaded him upon the altar. 

Following the war at Troy, Greece was weakened and the reunity of the states was not seen for another 500 years.
Later Encounter
When Alexander the Great embarked on his attack on Persia he along with his army first made a pilgrimage to the ancient site of Troy to honour  his Homeric heroes. In front of his troops,  he ran naked around the tomb of Achilles and presented a wreath, while his lover Hephaestion did likewise for the lover Patroclus. Alexander received or took the sacred and great ancient shield  and weapons of Achilles from the shrine which he then carried throughout his conquests. Some 550 years later the Roman Emperor Caracalla dressed himself as Alexander and in honour of both heroes he also ran around the Tomb to pay tribute. Another interesting story is of a stranger who made procession to the shrine seven years after Caracalla,  impersonating the Emperor dressed as Alexander. He arrived with 400 dancing Bacchie followers, travelled at the expense of the population, built a 'Trojan Horse' and then disappeared.
Grab a copy of Homer's Iliad and read the wonderful story of the heroes and the war on Troy.  Written some 2700 years ago it remains perhaps the greatest epic of any language. Homer was blind and the story had been an oral tradition for 500 years. His singing of the story was so highly regarded that the Greek alphabet was created to enable it to be recorded.
My friend Bogdan Mihai the spectacular Romanian Tenor sings Remember from The Movie Troy

See my page on great loves pre 1000 AD
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