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Every age gets the Achilles it deserves.

Now available thanks to bkmarcus at lowercase liberty:

The War that Killed AchillesFrom The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War by Caroline Alexander:

When the Roman Empire split in the sixth century A.D., knowledge of Greek, which flourished in Byzantium, or the Eastern Empire, all but vanished in the West. The Iliad itself was forgotten, and in its stead stories about the war at Troy flourished, which, along with romantic sagas about Alexander the Great, formed the most popular "classical" material of the Middle Ages. The primary sources for these post-Homeric renderings of the matter of Troy, as the body of romance came to be called, were the Latin prose works of Dictys of Crete and Dares of Phrygia, dated to the third and fifth or sixth centuries A.D., respectively—both of whom were fancifully believed to have been eyewitnesses to the Great War at Troy. In these Latin renderings, Achilles, the complex hero of Homer’s Iliad, stripped of his defining speeches, devolved into a brutal, if heroically brave, action figure. In the hands of medieval writers, sentiment hardened further against him. The twelfth-century Roman de Troie takes pains, in thirty thousand lines of French verse, to ensure that Achilles is depicted as in all ways inferior, even in martial prowess, to the noble Trojan hero Hektor. Such interpretive touches would remain potent down the ages, arguably into the present time.…

But as knowledge of Homer was disseminated by English translations, as well as by knowledge of the original Greek, the perception of the Iliad’s central hero, Achilles, shifted, and so accordingly did the perceived meaning of the epic. Not only had Achilles been tarnished by the medieval lays, but from the time of Augustan England of the eighteenth century, he was further diminished by the ascendancy of another ancient epic: Virgil’s Aeneid, which related the deeds and fate of the Roman hero pius Aeneas—Aeneas the pious, the virtuous, dutiful, in thrall to the imperial destiny of his country. In contrast to this paragon of fascism, Achilles, who asserts his character in the Iliad’s opening action by publicly challenging his commander in chief’s competence and indeed the very purpose of the war, was deemed a highly undesirable heroic model. Thus, while the Iliad’s poetry and tragic vision were much extolled, the epic’s blunter message tended to be overlooked. Centuries earlier, tragedians and historians of the classical era had matter-of-factly understood the war at Troy to have been a catastrophe…

But now, later ages marshaled the Iliad’s heroic battles and heroes’ high words to instruct the nation’s young manhood on the desirability of dying well for their country. The dangerous example of Achilles’ contemptuous defiance of his inept commanding officer was defused by a tired witticism—that shining Achilles had been "sulking in his tent."  

Read the whole thing at lowercase liberty.

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