Achilles’ Choice

    Nineteenth century fresco at the Achilleion in Corfu, Greece

    A Hero’s Toast From Troy, NY

    AND WHILE WE’RE AT THIS GAME, let’s think for a moment about this term, “narcissism.”

    It comes from the story of Narcissus, a handsome hunter, so proud that he disdained all who loved him. Cursed to be enamored with his own reflection, he wasted away beside the still pool he gazed into.

    The myth has no byline these days. At one point, it may have. It was shared around the fires for centuries, before some fellow wrote it down (adding his own bits along the way no doubt). And so it is that acts born out of narcissism — the act of writing and affixing one’s name to it, perhaps — grow into something greater with time, if they’re great enough.

    Sometimes I like to have fun with the curious happenstance that I live in a grand “old” city called Troy – named after that noble place that fell to a fierce army of Greeks and a woman so fair a thousand ships sailed to retrieve her.

    Every so often, in the pubs of my beloved Troy, when the “Lulz” and “bwahahahas” die down for a moment. When the cell phones go back in their pockets. And there’s room for a different sort of exchange to nestle in. That’s when I tell the story of Achilles’ choice.


    Against his best efforts to resist, King Odysseus was conscripted by a greater king to round up the toughest warriors in all of ancient Greece to fight against the Trojans. (And we all know what twenty-year fate Odysseus suffered after that conflict.) Around the Peloponnese, and all about the Aegean Sea he sailed gathering up able men. Then it came time to fetch Achilles — one man, hard as any Roman phalanx ever to stand after him.

    Achilles, demigod, prized child of goddess. Half mortal, half immortal.

    When the king from Ithaca came for him, Achilles’ mother disguised her son in women’s clothing. But Odysseus outsmarted the dim bull, in the same way that Huck Finn was later outwitted thousands of years later. (Of course that’s just a made-up tale. It isn’t true, like this one.)

    Even after he was outed, his mother still pleaded, “Achilles, don’t go to Troy. For there, you will die. No blood of the gods will preserve you there. Stay here, and live on forever with me and the other gods of Olympus.”

    But Achilles, although he was dim, was not void of intelligence. And he thought long and hard about it. And he surmised that someday the gods would live in obscurity, alive but forgotten. And new gods would come to replace them. Still more gods after that.

    The acts of men, though, the stories of their valor, struggles and avarice… those live on in brighter immortality in the hearts and minds of humans.

    So Achilles set off with Odysseus to battle — by his own accord. And he choked the waters with the bodies he slew. But just as his mother had feared, Achilles was felled by a poisoned arrow, in the one spot he was vulnerable – the place on his heel covered up by his mother’s fingers when she had desperately dipped him in the River Styx to coat him with invincibility.

    And though he had been betrayed and dishonored, though he had tried to walk away from that unjust war, it was his own wrath that consumed him.

    Because no man, no god, no false prophet or fool, no hero or villain, ever escapes The Fates & The Furies and the punishment they will mete in the end.

    But you know… he made the right choice. I think so. For here we are, millennia have passed. Do you speak his mother’s name today? I’ve forgotten it. And yet, to this very night, we huddle at the bar. Telling the story of Achilles … wondering about its lesson… in Troy, New York.

    So lift a pint with me now to Achilles, the man, and drink up. Tomorrow, we might be asked to die.

    Duncan Crary

    From: A Small American City #02: Peter The Carpenter

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