Achilles  book cover
1st Edition


ISBN 9780367901189
Published December 9, 2019 by Routledge
166 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

Series foreword


List of illustrations

Why Achilles?

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

Key Themes

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

Achilles’ Teachers


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

The Myrmidons


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


Agamemnon’s guilt

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

Healing anger

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)


Further reading



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Marta González González is Profesora Titular of Greek Philology at Málaga University (Spain). Her main research interests are Greek literature (particularly tragedy), Greek religion, and epigraphy. She is the author of a monograph on the Greek epigrammatist Nossis of Locri (2006) and of a co-authored book, with Ana Iriarte, Entre Ares y Afrodita. Violencia del erotismo y erótica de la violencia en la Grecia Antigua (2008, reprinted, 2010). Her most recent publications include articles on Greek religious vocabulary of funerary inscriptions.


"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