March 9, 2006

a sense of green, where there is none

Posted in books tagged , at 3:02 pm by placeinthestars

Recently, C. mentioned the book Achilles by Elizabeth Cook, and you know I had to read it. It’s very slim, and very beautifully written, like poetry, but not quite (also? a dizzying lack of commas, which sets my world askew).

I like the way it draws Achilles’ relationships with the women in his life – Thetis, Deidamia, Iphigeneia, Briseis, Polyxena, Penthesilea, even Helen, whom I normally despise – in brief but sharp strokes. And I especially liked the bits about Helen and Hector – how Hector is the only one with no interest in her sexually (hey, Hector/Andromache = classical het OTP, baby), and thus, her only friend, and how that parallels with Achilles’ indifference to her, that (to paraphrase) lies lightly as love upon her.

A quote:

Agamemnon had no sense then – or ever – of how well-matched Achilles and Iphigeneia really were. In spite of Agamemnon Achilles had greeted her clean heart. She decided, not her father – not even the gods – that she belonged to Artemis. She showed him that the way to make your fate your choice is to choose it, fearlessly, your lungs drinking in the air. It makes the gods ashamed.

Here in the underworld she has not gone stale. A glimpse of her and you feel you have brushed your sight against new leaves. A sense of green, where there is none.

p. 7-8

And of course, I love the Patroclus bits, slight as they are:

You would not think him helpless to look at him. He stands apart with Patroclus, his beloved through all eternity, and Patroclus – who loves Achilles but not as much as he is loved – waits for Achilles to move. His deference to Achilles is different from that of the others. They honour and respect him, keep a wise distance, because Achilles was better than all the rest. Better at being human. Fighting, singing, speaking, raging (oh, he is good at that still). Killing. But Patroclus alone is humbled by Achilles’ love. Only a fool thinks that to be more loved than loving gives power. Only a fool vaunts it and displays his own littleness by bragging to his friends and making capricious demands of his lover. Patroclus isn’t a fool. He knows that he is less than Achilles even in this. Humbled by the immensity of Achilles’ love he loves him back with all his large, though lesser, heart.


I wish there was more of Patroclus, more of their interaction while they were still alive. But I’ve wished that about everything, so… Sigh.

Also, the part where Thetis sifts his bones from the ashes? Gorgeous.

The last section is a flaw, imo, but that can be ignored, I think. I mean, okay, yes, I kind of get what she’s trying to do, but it feels… gratuitous to me. Unnecessary and, possibly, self-indulgent.

But overall, I recommend it. It’s short, beautifully written, and emotionally engaging.



1 Comment »

  1. […] talked about the book here, and I think my assessment stands. It’s beautifully written, but the last section is a […]

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