Achilles is the quintessential Greek hero, but that does not mean that he is a conventional hero. His uniqueness is dictated by his birth, as the son of a sea goddess, and his education at the hands of a centaur. The hero’s exceptional nature also forms part of the tension that both unites and opposes him to Apollo.
Achilles presents the different episodes in the life of this hero conventionally, in chronological order, based primarily on the Greek sources: birth, education, deeds in Troy, death and subsequent destiny as a figure of worship. On the other hand, this study employs the hero Achilles to reflect on various issues, all of them crucial for historians of the Greek world: what it meant to be and become a man in ancient Greece, what a hero’s aretê consisted of, how the Greeks represented the concepts of friendship and camaraderie, what moved them to revenge or reconciliation, what hopes they harboured as they faced their fate, how they imagined something as difficult to conceive of as a human sacrifice, and how they developed their ideas about the afterlife and hero cult.
List of illustrations
1. Introducing Achilles
A Mythological "Biography"?
Who is Achilles?
Evidence for Achilles
The Best of the Achaeans, Apollo’s Antagonist
The Scope of this Book
Brief overview of each chapter
2. The Origins of The Trojan War, The Origin of Achilles
The Origins of the Trojan War: Achilles and Helen
The Birth and Childhood of Achilles
3. A Men’s World: Achilles’ Emotions
Emotions and scenarios of action
Achilles’ anger as the Iliad’s leitmotif
Achilles and Ajax. A shame culture
4. Achilles’ Sacrificial Victims
Ambush, Pursuit and Sacrifice of Troilus
Young Trojans on the Pyre of Patroclus
The Hawk Chasing a Dove: The Death of Hector
A Last Sacrifice in Honour of Achilles: Polyxena
5. Gender And Sexuality
Achilles on Skyros: Becoming a Man in Ancient Greece
Achilles and Patroclus in Love?
Tears of Heroes
Sexual Violence on the Trojan Stage
6. The Fury Subdued: To Forget, To Forgive
Kissing Achilles’ Hands
Achilles with no Shadows
7. The Death And Cult Of Achilles
The Tradition of Achilles’ Death in the Epic. Echoes of the "Homeric Question"
Achilles’ Heel, Achilles’ Ankle: the Death of the Hero
Achilles in the Underworld. The Island of Leuke
The Cults of Achilles. Archaeological and Literary Evidence
8. Philosophical, Political and Ethical Debates
Achilles and the tortoise
Not life but a good life. Achilles as model for Socrates
Justice and revenge
More hateful than the gates of Hades is the man who hides one thing in his heart and says another
9. Achilles In Modern Literature In English
When there was peace, before the coming of the sons of the Achaians (Il. 22.156)
Never More Shall a Second Grief thus Reach my Heart (Il. 23.45–46)
And laid his manslaughtering hands over the chest of his dear friend (Il. 23.18)
And kissed the hands that had killed so many of his sons (Il. 24. 478–479)
"Achilles is a complex hero. His brief, brilliant life is sacrificed to avenge the death of his beloved friend. He is a consummate warrior, yet he is childlike in his rage; and outside the Homeric Iliad we learn that he was dressed as a girl to escape being sent to fight at Troy. Marta González González explores the many facets of this fascinating figure, deftly applying insights from modern theories, literary and psychological, to help bring him into focus. It is a pleasure to read."
- David Konstan, New York University, USA
"[This volume] presents some provocative insights shedding new light on old problems. The most intriguing are drawn from recent theories of evolution and psychology concerning the emotions of anger and grief. Deeply moving are the observations of how Achilles’ grief over the death of Patroclus can be used for the modern psychological understanding of post-traumatic stress and survivor symptoms in Vietnam veterans (pp. 114-5)."
- Susan Woodford, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018