THE FALL OF TROY
by Philip Womack
Part Seven: Achilles
It is time, now, to think about Achilles.
Nobody knows what his name means. His mother, the sea goddess Thetis, tried to make him immortal when he was a baby, by dipping him into the river Styx. Whether he cried or not is not recorded; what exactly Thetis was thinking is not recorded either. She must have been distracted, as she simply lowered the child into the black waves, holding him by the ankle; this meant, of course, that this untouched part was vulnerable.
Like so many of the heroes, Achilles was sent away to be schooled by a centaur, Chiron, in the mountains and the woods. The young Achilles loved these days more than anything. When he stood on the beach at Troy, and looked at the smoking ruins of the city, it was Mount Pelion that he remembered. When he lay with Briseis in his tent, it was the centaur's horsey flank that came back to his mind. He loved racing across the broad plains, faster than the deer. He loved sitting up into the night and looking at the stars, whilst the centaur would tell him their names and meanings, and would teach him how to strum the lyre. He loved the sad, strange songs that the centaurs sang, sounds and meanings that no human could ever capture.
He always knew he was going to be a fighter. It was inside him, like a song that was about to be written. Or it was like an ache, that could never be healed.
When the call came for the Greek armies to muster at Aulis, Achilles's mother sent him to Scyros, to be hidden among the princesses. He did not want to go, but he loved his mother, and she wept.
But still, though he had promised his mother he would not fight, when Odysseus came looking for him, Achilles could hardly help himself: the glittering of the swords spoke to him in a language he understood. He knew what he was doing when he caught the ball thrown to him. He had known from the moment Odysseus had entered the room.
Everything so far has been building up to Achilles. Every link in the chain leads up to this person, this name, this sword, these hands. Hands that could stroke the cheek of a corpse, and hands that could help an old man down from a mule; hands that could slay fifty sons.
When the Greek armies neared the city of Troy, and could see it rising up above them on the hill, Achilles leaned forwards on the prow, and laughing, held his thumb and forefinger out, and squinted between them. And with a tiny movement, he crushed the towers of Troy.
Who can understand Achilles? Who can understand that mixture of laughter and life, of love and war, of tenderness and brutality? Who can understand a man who sings mournfully outside his tent, and tends to his beloved's body, and yet at the same time is a machine made for killing?
Watch this man: watch his fierceness, his passion, his energy. Watch how he carves out a space for himself in the middle of the battle: how he seems to be untouchable, but only because he's moving so fast and anticipating everything that might happen. Watch him, and watch his pride, and most of all, watch his anger.
The anger of Achilles is the cause of the fall of Troy: the final link in the chain.