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To Bandage Achilles’ Emotional Wound

Achilles Defeating Hector - Rafael Tegeo
Achilles Defeating Hector - Rafael Tegeo

"Such is the way the Gods spin life

For unfortunate mortals

We live in pain, but they are strangers

To care and to sorrow.”

Readers of Homer’s The Iliad nurse an inexhaustible anger towards its hero; fore fronted in epic in its initial lines ‘μῆνις’ or godlike wrath. “It all began when Agamemnon and godlike Achilles quarrelled and parted.” Achilles does not appeal modern sensibilities. He is a callous slayer, arguably a rapist, confidently a pillager. By nature—relentlessly sulky, savagely pitiless, plagued by a quantum temperament. He has struck the chords of antipathy of cosmopolitan scholarship quite often, at times, for chasing, raping and mutilating fifteen- year-old Troilus, or for the ruthless slaughter of the warrior queen Penthesilea. But he must; as he was born to fight—a dogged machine at war. A freshly whetted guillotine blade. Armoured by the brandished iron, that is his heart. But so long after turning a blind eye to the charms of human Achilles—dissevered, disjuncted, disproportionate to the warrior Achilles, one has succumbed to unatoned machinations of sorrow, for there is the violentest pathos in his feral, almost bestial anger.

“I do not beseech you to stay for my sake”

After the headstrong and impulsive Greek overlord Agamemnon dismisses him almost instantly from the battle; mortified and over-wrought Achilles desperately implores his goddess mother Thetis to humbly supplicate to Lord Zeus to enable the Trojans for an upper hand and have the Greeks slaughtered in their multitudes to punish Agamemnon’s lapse of judgement and evil effrontery.

“Withdrawing from his men, Achilles broke into tears.”

Homer emphasizes Achilles’ sorrow by having him pour out his woes at great length as his wrath immediately dissolves into vulnerability. Perhaps, his tragic flaw or Hamartia lies in the savage intensity of his emotions. In this state of restless volatility, we see that Achilles’ anger a mere response to an underlying experience of rupture. The two destructive fits of anger begin and end the action of the epic, but they do not entirely assess the character of the epic hero. At first sight, what appeared as real loss lied in the domain of prestige. Eventually, on the later part of the epic, Achilles starts meditating on the deeper meaning of his participation war and its price; what cannot be compensated is what is so brutally sterile and steadfast in his mind’s eye—a phantasmagoric carcass of his dead friend strewn before him like a vast heap of futility. Thus, born in such a death, is a metaphor of an inevitable ache, in an esoteric language of longing; which finds expression through the cruellest forms of vengeance—a murder which he must avenge.

Human beings must put limits to their sorrow, their passions. They must recognize the animal need for food and drink, but not Achilles. He will not eat, drink or slumber while Hector still lives. When at last, dismantling his acute pride he goes into the battle, the Trojans turn and run for the gates, to not burn in the lawless conflagration of his deadly fury; such was the intensity of his wrath and the testament of his prowess. Hector still ruminates as he throws his spear at Achilles, “How much lighter the war would be for Trojans/If you, the greatest scourge, were dead and gone!” But through a scathing dramatic irony, it is Hector who dies and Achilles is left to exult over his fallen foe.

Achilles makes a steady detour towards his feelings, once again at the denouement, when he sees the havoc he wreaked from Priam’s point of view and moves from pity for the bereaved king to the wistful reminiscences of his aged father, whose memory Priam has recently evoked. At this point, almost through a subliminal ablution, ‘the waters of Neptune’ and ‘perfumes of Arabia’ washing him clean of blood, (a propitious fate that poor Macbeth never suffers) he ceases to be godlike Achilles, but becomes a human being in all its absoluteness. He knows how tenuous a hold his new mood has:

“No more old man, don’t tempt my wrath, not now

Don’t stir my raging heart still more.”

With the close of the Iliad, he is a wise and matured man, who has learned pity and the greater scope of the heart’s understanding. Wherein suffering of others has dissolved both his hubris, wrath and selfishness, leaving the blood-stained warrior and the gentle philosopher to live and die in the same heroic and tragic pattern. It is indeed, no mere truism that one feels, with conviction, that not even Virgil or Aeneas could with impunity borrow the Achilles of Homer. Rendering him an assuagement from worldly anguish, a loyal friend amid the urban void, a plea to unfurl the tender and eluding mystery of the God in him, ever present in Man in him. We may be in consonance with his unfaltering faith; which never alters, never fails, outcasts death, and defies all riotous tempests-testifying to the hero’s devout love and abiding faith as eternal, unyielding, and timeless.

And thus, Achilles remains perpetually, the steadfast icon of loneliness, quick to rebel but yet to recover.


Triasha Mondal

Triasha Mondal finds writing to be a cathartic procedure. The world to her seems barren and unfamiliar otherwise, and with the presence of poetry and literature, it becomes a thousand times familiar and less stifling.

*To Bandage Achilles’ Emotional Wound by Triasha Mondal

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