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‘The Hand of Achilles’
Part 6.5 of 8: Impressions of Metamorphoses by Ovid
© 2023 James LaFond
NOV/2/23
This summation is of Book 12.
Ovid concerns this chapter entirely with heroes at Troy. The end of book 11 saw one of Priam’s sons commit suicide and be turned into The Diver bird.
While being waylaid by storms a snake is seen by the Greeks sailing to Troy to recover Helen, to eat 9 birds. A seer predicts that means 9 years of war. The snake is said to have been transformed into stone. North Wind holds the fleet in port and a virgin girl is set to be sacrificed to appease a goddess. The goddess softened her heart and replaced the girl on the altar with a deer. This here seems to be the pagan counterpart to the binding of Isaac by Abraham.
Rumor is a goddess that lives on a mountaintop where her palace is built of echoing brass in a many chambered maze. There is no gate and “an unruly crowd, a fickle common throng,” people the place and bear stories and gossip. “Rumor Herself,” is able to see all of man’s many actions and has warned the Trojans.
Sons of gods and goddesses clash and “Achilles’ fight with Hector is delayed for the tenth year of the war.”
Achilles slays many and so does Kidness, a son of Neptune [of The Sea]. The sea god has made the man incapable of being pierced with weapons and he brags to Achilles that he is superior, as he is the son of the god, that rules Nerias, whose Neriad daughter bore Achilles. Achilles has a crisis of confidence in this battle where Hector slew the first man at the opposed beach landing. During his doubts, Achilles recalls the cities he wiped out, the many he had killed. Unable to pierce Kidness with spear, or cut him with sword, Achilles batters him with hilt and kills him with shield and knee and chokes him to death. Neptune then transforms Kidness into a white bird, a Kidness a kind of swan. [0]
A truce is called and men sacrifice meat to the gods and fill their bellies with the balance. Without any musicians to entertain them the heroes decide to speak of courage and discuss the ability of Kidness to shrug off a sword blow. Nestor then tells of Keneus, a like hero of his earlier years, even as he claims to be over 200 years old.
Virgin Keneus was the loveliest virgin of Thessaly. She is then raped by The God of the Sea, who then offers to give her any thing she desires. She wishes to be granted “that I am not a woman,” so that she would never suffer such an assault again. “Delighted with this gift,” Keneus, a Lapithe of Thessaly, is granted the ability to withstand sword strokes and wanders about as a man. Thessaly, means “grassland,” and was the natural target of invading steppes horse nomads into Greece.
Nestor then goes on to describe the legendary bridal brawl between the Centaurs and the Lapithes, in which Theseus the Athenian hero leads the fight against “those mad creatures.” The combat takes place with fists, tables, bowls, altars and all manner of banquet items serving as weapons for a graphic battle in which blood and brains flow. The Centaurs are regarded as “men,” and named so, suggesting that they are mythic renderings of steppes nomads. The battle is sacreligous as well as brutal. A prophet named Asbolus escapes the battle which he tried to avert as the diplomat that arranged this parlay that became “a massive uproar.”
This is the most extensive mythic event that has been generally lost to human memory.
Keneus is beset by a group of Centaurs who cannot harm him and suffer a crisis of masculinity. The entire crowd of Centaurs, who are giants that can uproot oak trees, heap up an oak grove over top of him, in an attempt to drive him down to Tartarus. But Mopsus saw a bird fly away from the Lapithe hero’s oaken grave, and declared that he had been transformed in death, rather than confined to the underworld.
A discussion of Herakles with one of his sons, brings the news that Herakles had slain all of Nestor’s many brothers and that the elder hero limits his vengeance to not telling tales of Herakles’ exploits. He thus affirms his “solid friendship,” with the son of the man who slew his family. One of Herakles victims is said to have been transformed into an eagle, who is never-the-less slain by Herakles.
After the tales told by Nestor, Ovid rejoins the Trojan War in its tenth year, recalling that Achilles had already slain Hector and dragged that body around the city walls. Neptune [Poseidon], who helped build Troy along with his favorite Nephew, Apollo, makes a pact with Apollo. Neptune “despised savage Achilles,” but was barred from fighting mortals, was lamenting the fall of the city they had built.
Neptune rages, “Achilles more destructive than War itself, who wipes away the work we do.”
The Sea God enlists the “death-dealing hand” of Apollo to guide the arrow of cowardly Paris, a woman stealing thief. Ovid declares in direct poetical voice that Achilles would “have rather died under the battle ax of a warrior Amazon queen.”
Ovid goes on to declare: “The man who has terrorized the Trojans, the great glory of the Greeks...has been cremated... that Vulcan, the same God that armed him, has consumed him...but his fame lives on and fills the entire world...with this glory the son of Peleus does not feel the deep spaces of Tartarus.”
The greatest Greek heroes must then have a conference to decide the fate of Achilles’s famed shield, a quarrel that is bitter enough that the King, Agamemnon, calls for a democratic solution, to shift the burden of this one decision “to them all.”
This reader suspects that the story of Achilles and his shield, a device that was fashioned by the craftsman god and depicted the entire world of civilized man on its surface, is a memory of the Bronze Age Collapse. Might it have been that the man whose name meant “Sorrow-of-the-people,” [1] may have been a prehistoric leader that turned on and toppled a civilization he had served in its fading stages?
Notes
-0. Virgil and the author of Beowulf liken ships under sail to swans at sea.
-1. A translation I did, which I am no longer able to defend as my knowledge of Greek has faded. Professor David Carl, who read The Broken Dance neither objected to or confirmed this translation. He did me such a good turn, I hope he is well.
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