When the beautiful Helen became of marital age, all the royal blooded bachelors raced to Sparta loaded with gifts and clever things to say. The line of suitors was long, the adrenaline of competition high. Odysseus, having a talent for oratory, liked to provoke situations that would give him a chance to talk. So he told Helen’s father, King Tyndareus, that having too many roosters and only one hen could only lead to conflict. Odysseus’ advice: First of all, let Helen choose her future husband so, if a wrong choice was made, she would be blamed. Secondly, before Helen decided, every suitor there must take an oath to sustain her choice and to defend the chosen husband against anyone who tried taking Helen away from him. Not wanting to appear as anti-conformist cowards, the men present had no choice but to agree.
Helen chose Menelaus but apparently the marriage lacked pazazz so she ran off with Paris of Troy forcing all of her ex-suitors, because of the oath, to go to war. Homer’s epic narrative, The Iliad, is a story based on this war.
The Iliad begins with Homer letting us know that Achilles is pissed off. Achilles, a mythical warrior who fights under the command of Agamemnon, is enraged because Agamemnon robbed him of Briseis, a Trojan princess given to Achilles as a war prize. So in retaliation, Achilles refuses to fight. And, without his presence, the Greek soldiers are discouraged and begin losing one battle after another.
But The Iliad is also a love story. In Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the focus is on Patroclus, a young prince who, exiled to the court of King Peleus, meets and falls in love with Achilles, the king’s son. Eventually Achilles notices Patroclus and the two become comrades. The Song of Achilles is their story told from the point of view of Patroclus.
There’s much scholarly debate as to whether or not Patroclus and Achilles were homosexual lovers. But really, who cares, love is love. Perhaps, in term of relationships, the focus should be on whether or not the relationship is complementary. In other words, can two people combined together enhance the qualities of the other? At first glance, it would seem as if Achilles and Patroclus didn’t have much in common. Achilles was a proud, handsome, and skilful warrior whereas Patroclus was scrawny and, because of his low self-esteem, easy to ignore. But they were like a pair of hands. One may dominate like the right over the left. Yet the right hand alone cannot use a bow and arrow, swing a baseball bat, knit, or hang laundry on a line. So, although Patroclus was not the dominate figure, his presence helped Achilles become a hero and fulfil his destiny.
Diversity is needed in a relationship because you cannot create a melody with just one musical note.
So back to Achilles’ rage and the Trojan War. When he stopped fighting, the Greeks lost their hype and began going downhill. To win the war, they thought, they needed Achilles. But Achilles’ had no intention of giving in to Agamemnon. Patroclus was dedicated to Achilles. But he also had his own code of honor. To encourage the Greek soldiers, Patroclus borrowed Achilles’ armor and entered the battlefield. The soldiers, seeing Achilles’ armor, thought their hero had come back to fight and, thus encouraged, started ripping the Trojans to shreds. Unfortunately, Patroclus could disguise himself as Achilles but couldn’t be Achilles. Even though Patroclus had fought valiantly, he was wounded by Hector and died.
Achilles fought for glory but Petroclus fought for his fellow man.
Maybe it is not Achilles but Petroclus the real hero.