Achilles was offered a choice…
- Grow old and live an uneventful life
- Die young but be remembered for eternity
His choice was the latter; he was immortalised in Homer’s Illiad and known as one of the greatest warriors in the fascinating world of Greek mythology.
So who was Achilles? He was the son of King Peleus of the Myrmidons and Thetis an nereid (otherwise known as a sea nymph). He was trained by the centaur Chiron, and was a fierce soldier. He put these skills to use during the long Trojan War, helping the Greeks win against the Trojans but ultimately dying in the process. His character has been brought back to life in a number of ways in recent years both in fiction and film.
He makes a brief cameo in the Rick Riordan novel The Last Olympian which is the last book in the first Percy Jackson series. The scene plays upon the myth that Thetis had put the young Achilles in the River Styx in the Underworld to make him invulnerable. However, she held him by his heel meaning this was his only weak spot, which proved his downfall as this is where the Trojan Prince Paris shot and killed him during the Trojan War. Achilles warns the protagonist Percy Jackson against going in to the River Styx, and that although he became strong his weaknesses did too and what really got him killed was his own arrogance. He’s painted as a bitter figure, who regretted his choices in life and who wished for Percy to learn from his mistakes.
Hollywood took a different approach to Achilles, who was played by Brad Pitt in the 2004 war epic Troy. Some of the myth is adapted particularly in regards to his relationships with Patroclus and Briseis. For instance Patroclus was presented as Achilles cousin, when in the myth he is the disgraced son of Menoetius given to King Peleus (Achilles’ father) who ends up being a role model for Achilles and they were close confidantes. There is debate whether they were lovers, and this is something that is explored in Madeline Miller’s fantastic novel Song of Achilles. In her debut novel, Miller portrays the story from Patroclus’ perspective rather than the more famous Achilles. We see the events of the training with Chiron and Trojan war through a different lens and the romantic relationship that develops between those two close friends.
Instead in the movie Troy, Achilles is portrayed as a traditional male romantic lead with his female love interest the Trojan royal turned slave Briseis played by Rose Byrne. From the start there is an unequal power dynamic as Briseis is delivered to Achilles as a war prize, for his sacking of her city Lyrnessus. This relationship is portrayed as romantic and tragic, with many tender moments played out in the film. Yet he is violent towards her (strangling her in one scene) and she falls for him quickly despite the fact he murdered her family and destroyed her city not long before. A straightforward Hollywood romance really doesn’t make sense for these two mythological characters and its quite two dimensional. This is why Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls is such a breath of fresh air as it shows the end of the Trojan war predominately through Briseris lens. At the reader we’re offered a detailed insight into how she feels about Achilles and the complexity of her feelings for him due to her circumstances.
These are just some examples of the many ways Achilles has been creatively represented in the last few years, you can go to Wikipedia to see a full list of where he features.
So it looks like the mythical Achilles got his wish; he has been remembered for eternity. Even if just for being the namesake for our Achilles tendon.
What do you think of modern representations of Achilles or any other mythological characters? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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Silence of the Girls by Part Barker
Song of Achilles by MAdeline Miller
The Last Olympian by Rick Riodarn
Troy 2004 Movie