Achilles (EoH)

From William A. Percy
Jump to: navigation, search

Greek mythological hero. Achilles was the son of Peleus andThetis, usually represented as their only child. All the evidence suggests that the Greeksthought of him as a man1 real or imaginary, and not as a "faded" god, and that his widespread cult resulted mainly from his prominence in the Iliad. His portrait was drawn once and for all by Homer, and later writers supplied details from their own imagination or from local traditions of obscure origin.

In the Iliad he appears as a magnificent barbarian, somewhat outside the sphere of Achaean civilization, though highly esteemed for his personal beauty and valor. Alone among the figures of Homer, he clings to the archaic practice of making elaborate and costly offeringst including human victims. His furious and ungovernable anger, on which the plot of the Iliad turns, is a weakness of which he himself is conscious. When not aroused by wrath or grief, he can often be merciful, but in his fury he spares no one. He is a tragic hero, being aware of the shortness of his life, and his devoted friendship for Patroclus is one of the major themes of the epic. Later Greek speculation made the two lovers, and also gave Achilles a passion for Troilus.

The homoerotic elements in the figure of Achilles are characteristically Hellenic. He is supremely beautiful, kalos as the later vase inscriptions have it; he is ever youthful as well as short-lived, yet he foresees and mourns his own death as he anticipates the grief that it will bring to others. His attachment to Patroclus is an archetypal male bond that occurs elsewhere in Greek culture: Damon and Pythias, Orestes and Pylades, Harmodius and Aristogiton are pairs of comrades who gladly face danger and death for and beside each other. From the Semitic world stem Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as well as David and Jonathan. The friendship of Achilles andpatroclus is mentioned explicitly only once in the Iliad, and then in a context of military excellence; it is the comradeship of warriors who fight always in each other's ken: "From then on the son of Thetis urged that never in the of Ares should Patroclus be stationed apart from his own man-slaughtering spear."

The Homeric nucleus of the theme of Achilles as homosexual lover lies i, his relationship with Patroclus. The friendship with Patroclus blossomed into overt homosexual love in the fifth and fourth centuries, in the works of Aeschylus, Plato, and Aeschines, and as such seems to have inspired the enigmatic verses in Lycophron's Alexandra that make unrequited love Achilles' motive for killing Troilus. By the fourth century of our era this story had been elaborated into a sadomasochistic version in which Achilles causes the death of his beloved by crushing him in a lovers embrace. As a rule, the post-classical tradition shows Achilles as heterosexual and having an exemplary asexuaflr iendship with Patroclus.

The figure of Achilles remained polyvalent. The classical Greek pederastic tradition only sporadically assimilated him, new variations appeared in pagan writings after the Golden Age of Hellenic civilization, and medieval Christian writers deliberately suppressed the homoerotic nuances of the figure. But in the world of Greek gods and heroes, Achilles remains the supreme example of the warrior imbued with passionate devotion to his comrade-in-arms.


W. M. Clarke, "Achilles and Patroclus in Love," Hermes, 106 (19781, 38 1-96; Katherine Callen King, Achilles: Paradigms of the War Hero from Homer to the Middle Ages, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Warren Johansson

Personal tools