Was Achilles Gay?Hello. This page is created in response to those of you who are out there thinking: "Gosh. Paris Alexandros is ruining Greek Myth. Whatever happened to good old heroic friendship? Why does he have to go putting these meanings on everything? Now whenever my infant son mentions Achilles or Patroclus, I go all red in the face." Well, folks, I hear you and I agree. I wouldn't mess with Greek Myth like that-- take Theseus and Pirithous, for instance, who were the epitome of heroic friendship, so often misunderstood in our time, and whom I would not even suggest to be a "couple"-- unless I had proof. And I do have proof. I'm sorry, folks. This is the line from the primary source which gave me so much trouble-- if I could prove it existed. Let me put forth my case, and then you can all send me angry comments, hate mail, sonnets of appreciation, etc., as the spirit moves you.
I would not suggest that anything was going on between Achilles and Patroclus were it not for the one fragment left us of a play, Myrmidones, in Aeschylus's heroic trilogy about the Trojan War-- Achilles's lamentation over Patroclus's corpse. It reads, as quoted in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love "Does it mean nothing to you, the unblemished thighs I worshipped and the showers of kisses you had from me?" or, in other translations "You had no consideration for my pure reverence of your thighs, ungrateful after all our frequent kisses" or "Does not my holy reverence for the thighs move you, oh you thankless of the frequent kisses." This leaves very little in doubt, wouldn't you agree? And Aeschylus is certainly a primary source. We rely on him for the Oresteia. This line convinced me that Achilles and Patroclus were more than just friends, but I, loyal site-maker that I am, hunted for further proof...and found it.
In Plato's Symposium it is said that great "was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus-- his lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far). And greatly as the gods honour the virtue of love, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and valued and rewarded by them, for the lover has a nature more divine and worthy of worship. Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector. Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only on his behalf, but after his death. Wherefore the gods honored him even above Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest." This shows that, as in the case of Shakespeare, with his Troilus and Cressida, the nature of Achilles and Patroclus's relationship was acknowledged in common conversation. But in Shakespeare, it is put far more bluntly...
Thou art thought to be Achilles' male varlet!
In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida there occurs a scene which also makes clear the nature of Achilles's relationship with Patroclus. I have reprinted it in its entirety below. Some of the dialogue is not necessary to the point, but I find it interesting how, after Thersites has pronounced a loud string of curses on all such men, Achilles addresses Patroclus as "my sweet Patroclus."
ACT V, SCENE I - The Grecian camp. Before Achilles' tent.
Enter ACHILLES and PATROCLUS
ACHILLES I'll heat his blood with Greekish wine to-night, Which with my scimitar I'll cool to-morrow. Patroclus, let us feast him to the height.
PATROCLUS Here comes Thersites.
ACHILLES How now, thou core of envy! Thou crusty batch of nature, what's the news?
THERSITES Why, thou picture of what thou seemest, and idol of idiot worshippers, here's a letter for thee.
ACHILLES From whence, fragment?
THERSITES Why, thou full dish of fool, from Troy.
PATROCLUS Who keeps the tent now?
THERSITES The surgeon's box, or the patient's wound.
PATROCLUS Well said, adversity! and what need these tricks?
THERSITES Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk: thou art thought to be Achilles' male varlet.
PATROCLUS Male varlet, you rogue! what's that?
THERSITES Why, his masculine whore. Now, the rotten diseases of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs, loads o' gravel i' the back, lethargies, cold palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas, limekilns i' the palm, incurable bone-ache, and the rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take again such preposterous discoveries!
PATROCLUS Why thou damnable box of envy, thou, what meanest thou to curse thus?
THERSITES Do I curse thee?
PATROCLUS Why no, you ruinous butt, you whoreson indistinguishable cur, no.
THERSITES No! why art thou then exasperate, thou idle immaterial skein of sleave-silk, thou green sarcenet flap for a sore eye, thou tassel of a prodigal's purse, thou? Ah, how the poor world is pestered with such waterflies, diminutives of nature!
PATROCLUS Out, gall!
ACHILLES My sweet Patroclus, I am thwarted quite From my great purpose in to-morrow's battle. Here is a letter from Queen Hecuba, A token from her daughter, my fair love, Both taxing me and gaging me to keep An oath that I have sworn. I will not break it: Fall Greeks; fail fame; honour or go or stay; My major vow lies here, this I'll obey. Come, come, Thersites, help to trim my tent: This night in banqueting must all be spent. Away, Patroclus!
Exeunt ACHILLES and PATROCLUS
So, there you have it, folks. Shakespeare, Plato, and Aeschylus agree, and most recent productions of Troilus and Cressida tend to focus on this element of Achilles's character.
Nope, I'm not messing with myth. But Achilles is messing with Patroclus...