Jonathan S. Burgess

 

On his book The Death and Afterlife of Achilles

Cover Interview of March 10, 2009

A close-up

Browsing readers would enjoy the first chapter of the book, in which the mythological “biography” of the hero is established, especially his childhood, often by relying on the evidence of ancient art.  This chapter demonstrates how the childhood of Achilles repeatedly involves the theme of his fated early death of Troy.

Achilles’ divine mother knows his fate, and she repeatedly tries to prevent it, to no avail.  There are repeated episodes in the early life of Achilles that involve her efforts to hide her son, or warn him.  Most famous is the episode in which Achilles is hidden on a Greek island dressed in the clothes of a girl.  The cleverness of Odysseus unmasks the deceit, and Achilles eventually joins the expedition to Troy.  But Thetis will continue to try to prevent his death, and she will continue to inform Achilles of his coming fate.  In the Iliad we see the concern of Thetis as she advises her son, and Achilles clearly has foreknowledge of his death.  The early life of Achilles thus serves as a significant background to the Iliad, and knowledge of the early life of Achilles assists in the comprehension of the relationship of Achilles and Thetis in the Iliad.