Friday, 24 August 2012
What a Heel!
Here is Achilles, on a bad day, in a bad mood, thinking about beating up someone, famous for his volatile temper.
He had a lot to be angry about, back then in Ancient Greece.
Son of a nymph and a king, his fey mother held him by the heel when he was just a small baby and dipped the rest of him into the river Styx so that he would be immortal. Then, just to make sure, she anointed him with ambrosia (not the tinned rice pudding) and put him on top of a fire to burn away any mortal parts of him.
Luckily she was interrupted by King Peleus, the baby's father, but she was so enraged by this that she left both father and son.
King Peleus, unable or unwilling to care for his son, found a Centaur, half man, half horse to be the ideal guardian and tutor, and so it went on.
Achilles, not surprisingly, also developed a raging temper and grew up to be extremely active in the Trojan Wars.
Eventually he was killed by an arrow shot into the one mortal bit of him - the heel, the one bit that hadn't been dipped in the Styx. This possibly happened during battle, possibly during a tricky love affair, possibly involving poison from a specific enemy, but it was that big tendon at the back of the heel that caused the problem. Without it the foot won't work, and it is always known as the Achilles tendon, a point of vulnerability for even the strongest.
Thinking about it now, it is not surprising that Achilles was vulnerable - and his poor mother, surely a bad case of post natal depression? Then the clearly inadequate father, and the totally unsuitable fostering arrangement; how could the poor lad ever be thought normal.
Yet he was.
He was a leader in the Trojan Wars, a star of the Iliad, a slayer of an Amazonian Queen (although a bit half-hearted about this one, and regretting it later), an upholder of Gay Rights, he was admired, even worshipped in antiquity and survives today in Greek philosophy and mythology.
But there is still that heel, still that point of extreme vulnerability that makes him famous today, and I think he would truly hate that fact. Known more for a bit of sinew than for all those macho exploits.
We all have bits of sinew holding our bones and muscles together at a practical level, and when something, some small part fails it can have a drastic effect.
We all have our points of vulnerability, and I think I know mine well enough to avoid or deflect the arrows most of the time - but they still catch me out occasionally.
So this is written for a son and his Achilles tendon, from a concerned mother.
We all have our points of weakness.
I realise there are lots of versions of Achilles' life story, but only one (or two) tendons bearing his name.