Quora answer: What is Achilles’s greatest accomplishment?

Jul 24 2011


Achilles’ greatest accomplishment was to realize the nihilism of his situation within the Western worldview and to embody that nihilism so we can understand our situation within the same worldview. What is key is that the Western worldview has not changed its structure in all this time so the situation that Achilles finds himself in is analogous to the situation we are all in within this strange, unique and onefold worldview.

The Iliad starts and focuses in on a conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon over Bresius a female slave who was considered a war prize. When Agamemnon had to give up his war prize female slave he took the one given to Achilles to make restitution. At this point Achilles realizes something fundamental, that there was no difference that made a difference between the Acheaens and the Trojans. Both of them stole women and besmirched the honor of Greek men by that means. At the point of that realization Achilles withdrew from the Battle. The Acheaens began to lose without him. Then Patroclus had the idea of appearing in the armor of Achilles to rally the troops. But he was cut down when he did that, and it sent Achilles into a berzerker rage, which only ended when the father of Hector came to get his body from Achilles. This scene of too much passivity followed by too much activity was a nihilistic response to a nihilistic situation. Nihilism as Stanley Rosen tells us is when there are two extreme artificial opposites in conflict which eventually are seen as the same, and when they are seen as the same then we lose meaning in our worldview because we no longer believe in the cause to which we were dedicated when we participated in the illusory conflict. A perfect example of this is the Democrats and Republicans who seem to be in conflict, even more these days. But it is really incumbents from either party who rule because they can pass laws that do not apply to themselves. Any two parties to a conflict become more and more like each other as they carry on the conflict in order to be able to succeed against the other. So it is only natural that in an anagogic swerve it is possible to change points of view and see that they are actually essentially the same despite superficial differences. Achilles realized that the whole war which was in the nineteenth year was really for naught because Agamemnon acted just like their enemy in this way what was analogous to the reason that they were fighting the war, which was to return the honor to Menelaus who lost his wife to Paris.

Once we realize that the whole of the focus of the Iliad is on this personal conflict and Achilles response to the action of Agamemnon because it involves a realization of the baselessness of the conflict on the part of Achilles. Why is it Achilles that realizes this, who has a bit of self-consciousness about the interminable war. It is because Achilles is already caught in the net of Nihilism. He was given the choice between living long without glory, or having a short glorious life. So already his life was fated to be caught in the web of nihilistic opposites, which can also be seen in his two responses which was withdraw and passivity in the midst of conflict, and then bezerker rage when his male lover was killed, i.e. being over active within the conflict, becoming like a natural force rather than being a human. Every thing about the myth indicates that Achilles life was one of entrapment by nihilism, up to including the fact that he was invulnerable everywhere on his body but on his heel where he was vulnerable.

It is important to remember that his mother was Thetis who was married to Peleus, in one of the few marriages that all the Gods attended. But it was at this marriage that Eris (strive) was not invited to that, she made appear the golden Apple, and it was Paris who was asked to choose which was the most beautiful of the Goddesses who should get the Apple. Paris chose Aphrodite, and for that she rewarded him with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen who was already married to Menelaus. So strife entered into the Marriage of Thetis the nymph who was forced to marry a human because it was said that her son would be greater than his father, so Poseidon, Hades and Zeus decided that she should marry a human against her will so that the realms of the Gods and their balance of power should not be disturbed. Achilles was taught be Charon the Centaur like his father. And Achilles grew up to be a very great Hero, due to the oracle about him being greater than his father, who was great enough to wrestle a goddess into submission through her transformations. There are two parallels in myth that we have to be aware of. First of all only Thetis and Demeter wore the black cloaks of Grief, one for a son and the other for a daughter, and so the stories of Achilles and Persephone are in some way parallel. And also Menelaus wrestled with the Old Man in the sea to get word of Agamemnon who he had to hold on to as the old man transformed though various emanations before he was subdued and was forced to give his news to Menelaus. Both of these parallels are important. Achilles is fated to die like his father rather than becoming an immortal. The grief of Thetis has to do with the fact that her son is not immortal as she is and though him she tastes something of the devastation of time which takes all the humans to the grave eventually. Menelaus on the other hand becomes an immortal with his unfaithful wife Helen, but at least he was not killed on his homecoming as Agamemnon was by his unfaithful wife. Demeter also feels grief because her daughter is kidnapped by Hades and although she is immortal she must live in the underworld half the year, i.e. during the winter. Kore the innocent daughter becomes Persephone the terrible goddess married to Hades. Because the door to the underworld was seen as the hearth within the home there was a since in which all Greek women were married to Hades. But the secret of the mysteries appears to be that Persephone had an affair with Dionysus who was the only God to experience Death, and they had a child who was Pluto, the golden child. A child which like Gold could not tarnish, i.e. could not be effected by Death. In some sense this child is parallel to the Son of Achilles who comes to replace Achilles after the father is slain. Although the father dies the son carries on, and this is the only taste of immortality that humans have other than their names living on because of their acts of glory. So in a sense Achilles represents the fate of humans to only have access to immortality either through their names being preserved by the poems of poets that tell of their glorious deeds, or by passing on those names to sons who live up to their fathers names as Achilles son did. So Achilles represents the highest reward of humans by the Gods who confer on them glory in their offspring or in their deeds and the preservation of their names in poetry and in genealogy.

The mystery of Eleusis was the best kept secret of the ancient world. We really do not know what the vision was that was shown to the initiates. But it was rumored to be of a golden child, i.e. of Pluto, i.e. the child who was glorious and whose glory never faded because he was born in the underworld, perhaps with the Dionysus rather than Hades as his father. All we have are hints so this is a speculation. But if we compare the golden child born in Hades to Achilles son then we see that there is a parallel, in as much that the son of Achilles, lives up to his fathers name, bears his name, and both father and son do deeds of heroism to be remembered by the poets in the epics. This son of Achilles is above the earth, but there is a counterpart below the earth, which is born of Persephone and Dionysus, the only gods to taste Hades as Humans do. Persephone does not die but she enters and leaves the underworld. Dionysus was dismembered by the Titans and had to be reconstituted. Dionysus is the dual of Athena. Athena is born out of the Head of Zeus and Dionysus is born out of this thigh. These are nihilistic opposites, which is apropos because Zeus is the God who is a Storm God, like Baal of Ugritic myth, who has a dark and light face, i.e. the too much darkness of the thundercloud and the too bright of the lightening. So Zeus embodies nihilism, and the offspring that come from him directly are Athena and Dionysus each of whom play a role in the Odyssey. Athena is a key figure in the Odyssey, as Aphrodite is a key figure in the Iliad. Athena and Hera the losers in the beauty contest, are on the side of the Acheaens while Aphrodite is on the side of the Trojans because Paris picked her over the other Goddesses.

Who will taste death and slavery in Troy, Hector and his Wife, but also their young son who will not live on to carry the name of his Father, nor do glorious deeds. This son who is the son of the good wife, and the glorious hero against insurmountable odds trying to protect his family and city and especially his son, is the opposite of the golden child from the underworld. Both are fated to be only children.

But why would this untarnishable child be such a great consolation to the Greeks within the mysteries. Plato almost gives the secret away when he talks of the men of earth who only know what they can hold in their hands, and those initiated into the lesser mysteries like Heraclitus who think the invisible realm is flux (Dynamic Becoming, or Process Being), and those initiated into the greater mysteries like Parmenides who think that the invisible realm is stasis (Frozen Pure Being). But then Plato has the sophist go on and say that what we really want is Change and Changelessness at the same time. Plato calls this in the Timaeus the WorldSoul, i.e. a moving image of Eternity in time. The golden child is the one who will be ever young, and who will not taste the ravages of time, but is fated to remain like hidden gold under the earth. This is very much like a comment I made in another answer where I talked about how entropy only effects complex things beyond the atoms, because the atoms, are eternal. And thus as we look around at things, we can see them as eternal, even ourselves even though we are perishable at the macroscale, at the atomic scale everything we are made of does not experience entropy and only can be destroyed or transmuted by falling into a star or a black hole. Thus in our life and death we are all golden in some sense, because at the atomic level we cannot be tarnished by entropy. Thus there are really two forms of Glory, one is that which comes from the eternality of our substance, and the other comes from deeds and our names being passed down through time after we are gone. It is rumored that this golden child is not related to Hades but to Dionysus, who is the god of perpetual new emergent beginnings and he gives rise to Pluto through the one Goddess who is constantly cycling between the realm of Hades and the world of light above. So it is the god and goddess that taste death who can give rise to deathlessness of the Golden child, and in a sense we are all that Golden child despite the fact that we will die, and the child of Hector and his wife who are fated to lose their child, is also golden in this sense, because he has lived, in some sense at the most basic level he cannot be tarnished by entropy despite the fact that he will be killed. So in the glimpse we are given of the child of Hector and his wife before the battle in which Hector is killed that child lives on because of that mention by the poet, as does the deeds of his father even though ultimately the father was killed and the Trojans lost the war though their own gullibility.

Hector in some ways gave his life for naught. But in the scene we see when Hector is with his family there is deep meaning, because it refers to the normality of life, more than anything else in the rest of the epic. It is really the only family scene. But the lives of families together are dependent on the defense of cities, and the cooperation of those who live within the cities and take on their defense.

I hope you are getting a sense of the depth of this story that we can see through the mythic interconnections we can find. Achilles makes a choice to have a short life but to die in glory. This shows us that glory is the most significant thing to the Greeks. And even the losers if they fight valiantly receive their share of glory and honor as Hector did when Achilles gave Hector’s father the body of Hector. This exchange made Achilles human again because it reminded him that he would never see his father again, unlike Odysseus who would see his own father again after many trails when he returned home. The father is the source of honor when he buries his son and and the source of humanity when the son realizes that his own relation with his father will ultimately be like that of Hector. Both will die as heros outlived by their fathers, and thus they won’t be carrying on the names of their fathers, even though they did deeds of Glory. In some deep sense Achilles realizes that he and Hector is the same. Achilles realizes that just as he dragged the body of Hector around the city, so he is being dragged by fate around and around until he will be just as dead, and will experience the underworld. When Odysseus sees him in the underworld Achilles says he would rather be a slave than dead. Achilles actions make it possible for the Acheaens to enslave the Trojans, but Achilles is saying he would just as soon as lost and been enslaved rather than become a shade within hades, like the other shades that Odysseus meets. Thus Achilles says he should have made the choice for long obscure death with no glory rather than the choice he made, now that he knows the truth of death. But either way Achilles would have died, and so it is ultimately a false choice. Everywhere we turn when it comes to Achilles we confront some aspect of his existence which is nihilistic. In truth, he was meant to be a golden child because he was fated to be greater than his father, so because of that the Gods agreed not to make love to Thetis, and they arranged the marriage to Peleus instead. He could have been a God, if one of the Great Gods had mated with his mother, but their agreement to each leave her alone, and to give her to a human, fated Achilles to die and thus stole immortality from him. It is the Gods who are golden. They do not tarnish, but the ones of them to experience death in spite of their immortality were the ones to give rise to the golden child below the earth.

One of the differences between the Iliad and Odyssey is the account of what happen to Helen’s brothers, and why they did not participate in her rescue. One says that they are dead above ground and the other says they are alive underground. This is a very interesting statement because it alludes to the difference between the son of Achilles and the Golden Child. If you are above ground you will taste death, but if you stay below ground you will continue to live. In stead of her brothers Helen is rescued by her husband and his brother, this shows the difference between Matriarchy and Patriarchy in action. Matriarchy is represented by Demeter and Persephone, while Patriarchy is represented by the agreement as to who Thetis should marry by the Patriarchs. On the other hand strife who was not invited to the wedding sows discord by throwing into the gathering a golden apple into the gathering which had inscribed on it “To the most beautiful”. Paris is chosen to make the choice between the goddesses, and he chooses Aphrodite’s bribe over the bribes of the other goddesses. And this choice between the three sets off the events that lead to the War. So a human is given this choice of the most beautiful, and he accepts the bribe that gives him the most beautiful, who is Helen. Paris makes a fateful choice which sets the stage for the fateful choice of Achilles who chose short life with glory as did Hector. Helen and Thetis had no choice as how their fates were allotted to them, one by the patriarchs agreeing about who she should marry, and the other by the Goddess who won the Beauty contest who gave her as a bribe and thus took her away from her husband.

There is in Greek myth almost an infinite horizon that we can explore in this way giving ever deeper meaning to the great deed of Achilles of embodying nihilism but realizing it within his companions when it was manifest in their action, and although his response was nihilistic, this little glimpse of self-consciousness concerning the nihilistic situation he was in within the Western worldview, shows against Hegel that Achilles did not have to become a slave to realize the essential nature of his existence and the worldview that he was within which is suffused with nihilism though and through and thus the fate of Achilles is the same as our own who are the inheritors of this strange, unique and onefold worldview that is the gift to us of the Indo-Europeans who all had Neanderthal DNA unlike the people who did not leave africa. And so those who did not leave Africa who are the brunt of racism, are in fact the only true humans and the rest of us, like the Indo-Europeans are hybrids of humans and Neanderthal humanoid species. Could the battle of the devas and asuras, or olympians and titans be a remnant of the battle between the new humans and the Neanderthal at the threshold of the Garden of Eden, i.e. Africa. The humans wandered out of Africa and were met by the Neanderthal already living in the Middle East in in Europe. Humans may have been enslaved at this threshold by the Neanderthal and eventually broke free and established themselves all over the globe taking the neanderthal and human distinction with them as they set up various new homelands. So interesting that Aryans believe that they are the superior race when they along with all of us outside of Africa are really the bastard children of Neanderthals and Humans mixed. Only the Africans are not half-breeds even though they have been the brunt of racism since the beginning of time. This irony is so deep it is almost difficult to maintain ones dignity in the face of it. We have greatly wronged the most human amongst us throughout the ages. Such is the nature of the hybrid creatures we are . . . Perhaps Nietzsche’s ubermen who are closer to the earth are merely the African Humans who we have never recognized for their intrinsic truth of being intrinsically and essentially more human than ourselves, i.e. those from outside of Africa. The distinctions between kinds of human may have resulted in the theory seen in myth that there are different gods for the different species. At one time there were at least five species of humanoids on the planet together. And it just so happens that there are five meta-levels of the negation of existence (as with the meta-levels of Being). In other words there are five different kinds of Being, that are essentially different, and these are the obverse of five different kinds of non-Existence.

Let us think for a while about these civilizations on the threshold of Africa in the Middle East. The sumerians were unique with respect to their whole language as there is none other like it that we know. Egyptians were what was left of the people who migrated from north africa when the Sahara became a desert, so they are the remnant of the Berbers that also still exist in Morocco, a truly lost race buried for the most part under the sand except for those who made it to Egypt. Then there are the semites who were unique in worshiping one God and making contracts with that God. And finally there is the Indo-Europeans who have the uniqueness of Being within their language. All these groups in this area have something unique about them. And it is out of the interaction of these various worlds that the Western worldview was forged in the Middle East. These four worldviews with their unique characteristics combined into the Meta-worldview which has become the Western meta-worldview that has become dominant. And interestingly it is precisely at this point that humans encountered already indigenous Neanderthals and mixed with them somehow. It is interesting that the world dominant worldview has come out of precisely this area. And something that these various worldviews shared in different ways was the idea of generations of Gods, but it is the Indo-Europeans who had the idea that these various generations actually warred on each other so that sons displaced fathers. It is also interesting that the Gods have sex with humans to produce half-breed heros. I will not continue along these lines but I am sure you get the idea that perhaps the human-neanderthal mixture had wider repercussions than we had imagined previously.

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