Achilles was the son of Thetis, daughter to the seagod Nereus, and Peleus, King of Thessaly. He had been raised by the wise Centaur Cheiron, who had taught him the art of war and all kinds of sports. Achilles became brave, fast and strong. The tales of all his male virtues were told across Greece, and he became the most respected warrior in entire Greece. His mother, Thetis, had dipped him in the waters of the river Styx, to make him unvulnerable, she had held him in his heel, so that was the only place he could be injured.
Paris had kidnapped Helena to Troy, and the Troyan war was being prepared throughout Greece, and all the great kings were engaged; Agamemnon, Menelaos and Odysseus. The fortune-teller Kalchas said that the war couldn't be won without Achilles, the greatest warriror of them all. Thetis, worried about her son, sent him away to a faraway island, where he was dressed in women clothes and hid in the women quarters of the king's castle. Odysseus found him though, and spurred him to participate against the Troyans. He and his soldiers, the myrmidones, sailed towards Troy.
"Achilles was a real man" - some might say today. Stereotyping will make him -- strong, fast and brave -- very manly. But stereotyping will also make him the opposite. His undivided love was directed toward Patroclus -- his brother in arms. Achilles and Patroclus; the most well-acknowledged lovers in Greece. Their love can be analyzed in many ways; through the eyes Greek culture, masculinty and its meaning, and so forth. But it was an interesting love affair. Or was it an affair? Today their bondage often is considered as a marriage.
Well in Troy the fighting started. It would last for ten years. Achilles, Patroclus and the myrmidones slained many men on the battlefield, but when Agamemnon disgraced Achilles, he refused to fight further. Patroclus stayed with Achilles, but eventually he couldn't stand the thought of having friends being murdered in the battlefield while he was sitting and watching. Achilles understood him and lent him his shield. He fought with great excellence until he met Hector -- the greatest warrior of Troy -- who killed Patroclos. Achilles was devastated and decided to revenge Patroclus. He brutally killed and -- which he would later regret -- disgraced the body of Hector.
Both Patroclus and Achilles had wished that their ashes be mixed together after their deaths (see Iliad 23.83 and 23.243-44), something only reserved for married couples and family. Achilles also said that his son was intended to be entrusted to Patroclus. Achilles son is only named one other time in the entire Iliad -- Patroclus was more important to Achilles than his son.
The funeral was grand. A funeral pyre was prepared, and the body laid upon it. Achilles cut of all his long, blond hair and put it in Patroclus hand. When the pyre was lit, twelve Troyan youths, four horses and two faithful dogs followed him into the land of the dead.
The fighting continued, and Achilles fought with great strength. Achilles had just won a battle, when an arrow, coming from the bow of Paris, and directed by Apollon, hit Achilles in the heel, the only place he could be injured. The great warrior was killed, and he was mourned for twelve days. He was burnt on the thirteenth day
«Like a forest fire the flame roared on, and burned
your flesh away. Next day at dawn, Akhilleus,
we picked your pale bones from the char to keep
in wine and oil. A golden ámphora
your mother gave for this - Hephaistos' work,
a gift from Dionysos. In that vase,
Akhilleus, hero, lie your pale bones mixed
with mild Patrókls' bones, who died before you,»
-- (Odyssey, 24.81-88)
His wish was obeyed, and he was laid to rest together with his love Patroclus. Odysseus met Achilles in the land of the dead, he had Patroclus at his side. When Achilles had been told that his son had become a hero at Troy, he returned with Patroclus over the meadow of death.
The love between Achilles and Patroclus was greatly acknowledged in Greece, and widespread throughout Europe, even to our times. In Greece, lovers wanted a relationship like Achilles and Patroclus, and even Shakespeare showed their love in his play "Troilus and Cressida", though not very positive;
«Patroclus: Well said, adversity! And what need these tricks?
Thersites: Prithee, be silent boy: I profit not by thy talk: thou art thought to be Achilles' male valet
Patroclus: Male valet, you rouge! what's that?
Thersites: Why, his masculine whore.»
(Troilus and Cressida, Act 5, Scene 1, ll 14-20)
Were Patroclus and Achilles married? Or had they been united in a marriage-like ceremony? There were such ceremonys in Greece and Rome, that has been proved, but if Achilles and Patroclus went through one is unknown. One thing that might suggest that is their wish to be buried together -- like husband and wife.
Well, there are a lot more aspects to discuss here, as I have said before. I have confined myself to tell the facts about Achilles and Patroclus' loves tory. Next time it might be apropriate to discuss the Greek culture toward homosexuality -- something very interesting.
"And now to something completely different". I am in the beginning of a computer change, my family is changing to a bigger and faster computer, and I won't be able to write a column for next month. You can mail me instead at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you soon