Achilles' Guide to Break-ups
You’re Going to Suffer, So Suffer Like a Hero
Sing, O Muse, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilles at the devastation, the thousandfold pain, the bitter conflict of break ups!
We all know that Homer’s Iliad is about Achilles’ wrath, but have you ever read his wrath as that of a broken heart? If you think you can’t get over your significant other, find out how Achilles gets over the most significant of all significant others, Agamemnon! (The following translations are adapted from Richmond Lattimore.)
When it’s time to call it off, call ’em out with some epic epithets: “O wrapped in shamelessness, with your mind forever on profit,” (1.149) or to really get your point across: “You wine sack, with a dog’s eyes, with a deer’s heart!” (1.225).
Don’t come crawling back to me!
You know that soon she (or he) will realize that she will need you to kill some Trojans and that man-slaughtering Hector, or the equivalent of your particular situation, so tell her straight off that you will do no such thing.
Tell her, as Achilles tells Agamemnon, that when that time comes, “then you will mangle the heart within you in sorrow, that you did not honor the best of the Achaeans” (1.243–44).
Cuz, honey, you’re the best of the Achaeans, and you deserve the best.
First thing post break-up: Cry to your mama
It’s only natural to break down post break-up. Call your mom. Achilles conjures up mama Thetis (1.351–57), and there’s no shame in it. Let’s just hope your mother won’t be too sympathetic of your existential plight, like Thetis totally is: “Your birth was bitterness. Why did I raise you?!” (1.414).
Yikes, mom. I’ll be okay, really.
When his friends say he misses you…Stand your ground
Soon will come an embassy to try to patch up your relationship. You already know your ex is two-faced, so throw in a pithy: “I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another” (9.312–13).
If they keep pulling at your heart-strings, be firm: “Now that he has deceived me and taken from my hands my honor, let him try me no more. I know him well. He will not persuade me” (9.344–45).
And if they persist, pull out that daily mantra that you chant in front of the mirror every morning:
“He cheated me and he did me hurt. Let him not beguile me with words again. This is enough for him. Let him of his own will be damned, since Zeus of the counsels has taken his wits away from him” (9.375–77).
Ooh, that’s smooth.
And it’s even smoother in the original Greek, so tape this up on your mirror and memorize it:
ἐκ γὰρ δή μ᾽ ἀπάτησε καὶ ἤλιτεν: οὐδ᾽ ἂν ἔτ᾽ αὖτις
ἐξαπάφοιτ᾽ ἐπέεσσιν: ἅλις δέ οἱ: ἀλλὰ ἕκηλος
ἐρρέτω: ἐκ γάρ εὑ φρένας εἵλετο μητίετα Ζεύς.
But hold your giddy horses. Your wrath will ebb and flow, like the waters of the river you will eventually feel the need to battle. Achilles admits: “Yet still the heart in me swells up in anger, when I remember the disgrace that he wrought upon me before the Argives” (9.646–47).
And when you feel this way, Achilles recommends retail therapy. Boy, get yourself a nice shield!
Can we still be friends, though?
That’s the question that Hector dares to bring up before Achilles naturally stabs him in the neck. If you’re ever asked this, you know what to say:
“Argue me no agreements. I cannot forgive you. As there are no trustworthy oaths between men and lions, nor wolves and lambs have spirit that can be brought to agreement, but forever these hold feelings of hate for each other, so there can be no love between you and me, nor shall there be oaths of friendship between us…” (22.261–66).
And as the steaming hot chocolate syrup on the lava cake of rage:
“I wish only that my spirit and fury would drive me to hack your meat away and eat it raw for the things that you have done to me!” (22.346–47)
αἲ γάρ πως αὐτόν με μένος καὶ θυμὸς ἀνήη
ὤμ᾽ ἀποταμνόμενον κρέα ἔδμεναι, οἷα ἔοργας!
Does that answer your question?
Lamenting Loss in War (and Love)
Just when you think there’s no end in sight to your madness, you may feel some compassion. You may even break bread with your enemy and, to everyone’s surprise, not kill him or her, as Achilles does with Priam in the last book (24.621–28).
Respect the grieving process. It’s not just your loss. Feel the mutual pain as what once was becomes a thing of the mythical past. It may be the most heroic thing you can do.
Luby Kiriakidi is a Classics Masters student at Durham University. She enjoys teaching languages and writing and hopes to continue with both in the future.
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