I am surprised!
Ohh what should we talk about? So many things. Let’s do something a little Achilles-centric, b/c I talk about my love for Patroclus a lot, but never enough about my love for Achilles.
Let’s talk about Achilles and his honor. Achilles is cool, and if you hate Achilles, I don’t know your deal. In the historical context, in that era of Greek history, the only thing men could strive for was honor. That’s freaking it. It’s not like our time or other points of Greek history. All Achilles was was his honor and if he didn’t have that honor and he wasn’t remembered after death, it would be a fate worse than death itself. So when he gets pissy about Briseis being taken away, um yeah he reacted exactly the right way, come on. Briseis is great and I don’t want to diminish her character AT ALL, but to Achilles she would have been mainly a symbol of his honor in battle. She was his war prize. When Agamemnon took that away, he was dulling Achilles’ honor. So Achilles got freaking pissed. That’s HIS honor, and this guy is taking away everything that matters to an Ancient Greek of this time.
And then the sitting around happens. Achilles is stewing in his camp, not earning honor in battle, not participating in the great war meant to give him immortality. And it completely sucks for him.
But it also means he’s with Patroclus more. Him and Patroclus have nothing else to do but hang out with each other and be cute and in love. And that love grows. They’re with each other all the time, hardly ever leaving each other’s side, because what else is there to do? All they have is sitting around the Myrmidon camp and hanging out with friends from back home and each other.
And by Book 9 he’s absolutely done with everything. He literally does not care anymore about honor or fighting or eternal glory. He has found something better: life. A life with Patroclus alive by his side. The two of them have an out, a way to survive this damned war and be safe at home, happy and together. Achilles is absolutely ready to give up everything because “nothing is worth my life, not all the riches” because these mortal prizes are fleeting and “a man’s life cannot be won back.” And does honor in fighting even matter anyway? “In the end, everybody comes out the same, coward and hero get the same reward: you die whether you slack off or work.” Battle and glory and honor have no appeal anymore. Achilles would rather go home with Patroclus and be happy in this life, who cares about the next life?
And that’s absolutely heartbreaking when it comes to Book 16 onwards. Because Achilles WAS ready to leave everything and go home with his dear heart, Patroclus. They were supposed to leave with the Myrmidons and live happily ever after.
Because Patroclus is kind and gentle and loving and he can’t stand to see the Greeks killed left and right. His friends, the men he’s gotten to know and care about, are all dying around him and he’s so affected. Patroclus’ big heart was his true downfall. He cared about the men dying. He cared about his Achilles’ honor and how the men would see him if he did not fight. He cared so much about so many things. And this caring leads him to step up and beg Achilles to let him help. He just wants to help, to stop the massacre. And Achilles says yes, because there was no way he could say no to his beloved who was on his knees weeping before him.
He couldn’t say no. And Patroclus rides into battle. And that is the end of Achilles’ indifference.
He can no longer see the point of a life lived peacefully when the one person he wanted to spend that life with is gone. And he’s so heartbroken because “I loved him, and I killed him.” He wants to die because he feels so guilty. “I was no help to him when he was killed out there.” He just “squatted by my ships, a dead weight on the earth.” And he’s absolutely devastated because he sent Patroclus “off to war with horses and chariot, but he never welcomed him back home again.” The pain is absolutely tangible from Book 18 until the very end. Achilles is so done with everything. Nothing matters, just Patroclus. Just reuniting with his Patroclus in the afterlife. “Nothing matters to me now but killing, and blood, and men in agony.”
Agamemnon may have stripped him of his honor by stealing Briseis. But that is NOTHING compared to Hector and the Trojans stripping him of his life, his love, his Patroclus. So he kills Hector. He knows it will bring about his own death, but so what? That death means that he will be with Patroclus again.
And isn’t that what really matters?
The thing that Achilles finally finds worth figting for.
He will fight if it means reuniting with the one man who made anything worth while.
He will fight if it means being in Patroclus’ arms once more.