Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Achilleid

Go To
Behold Achilles! (He's in the pink dress.)

The Achilleid is an incomplete Roman epic written by Statius late in the first century. The two chapters that were completed depict Achilles being hidden away by his mother Thetis on the island of Skyros before being discovered by Ulysses and convinced to fight in the Trojan War.

Despite being short, incomplete, and rarely remembered, the Achilleid has had a profound effect on later depictions of Achilles and Greek heroes in general. Statius appears to be the inventor of Achilles' famous invulnerability, the role of the River Styx in Achilles' Origins Episode, and the idea that his heel was, well, an Achilles' Heel in the forms that we understand them today. Like most of Statius' works, it was incredibly popular in the Medieval Europe and scholars of the time considered him an equal of Virgil and Ovid. Its influence is particularly pronounced on later examples of epic poetry like The Divine Comedy and The Faerie Queene.

The Achilleid provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Achilles tearfully vows to Deidamia that he will never take a Trojan wife or have a child by any of them. The line immediately after this promise tells us that Achilles will eventually break his vows on his travels.
    "The storm winds swept his idle words away."
  • Achilles' Heel: When Thetis mentions dipping Achilles in the River Styx, she laments that she couldn't engulf his entire body in the river. This implies that he died because he was struck in the one part of his body not enchanted by the river.
  • Actual Pacifist: Despite raising one of the most violent men to ever live, Chiron himself doesn't own any weapons and hasn't hurt any person or animal since he gave up hunting animals in his youth.
  • Batman Gambit: Ulysses tricks Achilles into revealing himself by putting a shield and spear in front of him and having a soldier blow a war horn. As a young warrior eager for battle, Achilles instinctively throws off his dress and wig and takes up arms, forcing him out of hiding and setting him on the path to join the Trojan War.
  • Call-Forward: When Patroclus first appears, Statius mentions that he'll join Achilles in the Trojan War and that he too will die, as seen in The Iliad.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: Exaggerated Trope; Achilles changes out of a dress in and into armor so quickly that no one in the room has time to notice he's doing it, including himself.
  • Crush Blush: Achilles cheeks turn red when he sees Deidamia and experiences Love at First Sight. The narrator puts a lot of time describing it with a weird metaphor about blood spilling into milk.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: When Thetis finds Neptune relaxing, a school of sea monsters are by his side saluting him and peacefully swimming along a bunch of dolphins and a choir of tritons. Thetis doesn't so much as bat an eye at this and the horrible monsters of the deep cause her no trouble as she politely chats with Neptune.
  • Disguised in Drag: Thetis disguises Achilles as his own (non-existent) sister and orders a king to accept him as one of his many daughters. Despite Achilles' musculature, his natural beauty and his mother's instruction on how to move like a woman are enough to let him pose as a woman with nothing more than a dress and a necklace for nine months.
  • Distant Finale: Statius promises to end the book by not only showing Achilles' life up to the events of The Iliad, but even those events after Homer's epic.
  • Dragged into Drag: Achilles rejects the idea of dressing as a woman with a ferocity that is compared to the force of young, wild horse trying to throw off the first person to mount it. Even when he's convinced to go along with the plan, he can't bring himself to actually put on a dress and makes his mother put it on for him.
  • Dramatic Irony: Deidamia's plea for Achilles to remember her is all the more tragic because readers of The Iliad know that she's only mentioned twice in the epic and never by Achilles, who betrays their marriage by taking other wives.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Thetis mentions a few nightmares she's had that serve as omens of Achilles death. They include swords piercing her womb, animals attacking her breasts, and even flashbacks of her journey to Tartarus that made Achilles invincible except for his Achilles' Heel.
  • Fainting Seer: Calchas collapses the second after he madly divines Achilles' location.
  • Five Stages of Grief: The driving force of the story is Thetis' terror at the idea of her only child dying. She essentially goes through all the stages of grief, entering into denial and bargaining with strange forces to save his life all while worrying like a momma bird desperately searching for a safe place to nest her kids.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since The Achilleid begins by citing Homer, the audience knows that despite Thetis' best efforts, she can't stop Achilles from joining the Greeks in the Trojan War.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The sea-goddess Thetis acknowledges that she's already failed to prevent her son's death as soon as Paris kidnapped Helen. She still tries to do her best to save him, but even the great god Neptune tells her that since the Fates have announced Achilles death, no god can save him.
  • Heavy Sleeper: Achilles somehow manages to sleep through being carried down a mountain by a goddess and being carried by a herd of dolphins across an ocean.
  • Heroic Dolphin: Thetis has a team of titan-bred dolphins that she prefers to ask for help instead of the gods she knows. The poem even takes a second after this to wax poetic about how dolphins are the most beautiful and human animals in the ocean.
  • I Can't Dance: Achilles has to dance alongside the daughters of Lycomedes to keep up his disguise, but he resents having to do something girly so much that he fumbles into all the girls and ruins the dance.
  • Internal Reveal: The climax of Book I is when Achilles throws off his disguise and reveals to Lycomedes and his daughters that he's not Thetis' daughter, but, y'know, Achilles. In the same moment, he also lets Lycomedes know that he married his daughter, Deidamia, and had a child with her.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Before the story switches to Ulysses perspective, the narrator describes how each Greek city-state is preparing for the Trojan War. Highlights include mentions of the peaceful Arcadia shearing all their sheep to provide soldiers with clothing and the legendary Mount Othrys being stripped for its steel and stone.
  • Lord of the Ocean: Even a daughter of the ocean is powerless to stop sailors without appealing to Neptune, ruler of the seas. He's portrayed as a kindly man surrounded by dolphins, merfolk, and sea-monsters while riding a chariot drawn by hippocamps.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Achilles is adamant that he doesn't want to dress up as a woman, but as soon as he sees a pretty girl, he's left dumbfounded and easily manipulated by his mother into accepting getting Disguised in Drag.
  • Makeover Torment: Achilles is so embarrassed about dressing as a woman that Thetis has to put his dress on, do his hair, and pick out the jewelry he'll wear to complete his transformation into a full-blown babe.
  • In Medias Res: The story begins after Helen has been kidnapped, Achilles has grown-up, and the Greeks have assembled for the Trojan War. Only later in the book do we return to the past to figure out how Helen was kidnapped, how Achilles was raised by Chiron, and why the Greeks are declaring war to begin with.
  • The Muse: As is standard for epic poems, the Achilleid begins with the author praying for inspiration from a god. In this case, Statius asks Apollo himself to inspire him and does so by appealing to his previous experience writing poetry.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Deidamia conceals her pregnancy via Achilles from everyone but her nurse. She even manages to keep it a secret after giving birth to her kid.
  • Mythology Gag: Statius begins the poem by praying to Apollo to give him more inspiration after using it all up of writing about Thebes, referencing the first epic he wrote.
  • One Head Taller: The first thing the girls of Scyros notice about Achilles is that he's a full head taller than any of them, and it's not long after that that Achilles secretly marries one of them.
  • Our Hippocamps Are Different: Neptune rides an underwater chariot that is oddly enough pulled by horses, except his horses have fins and are blue as the ocean. Even weirder is that these horses still leave footprints as they swim through the ocean.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Amphibious people called "tritons" follow Neptune as he rides through the ocean, managing to cheerfully sing underwater despite lacking air and being surrounded on all sides by horrifying Sea Monsters.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The dress Achilles wears does nothing to hide the fact that he's built like an ox and taller than any girl his age. The only excuse for why he isn't immediately found out is that a goddess made the disguise, and even then, Ulysses immediately sees through the disguise anyway.
  • Parental Abandonment: Even though Thetis deeply wants to save her son's life, she had nothing to do with his up-bringing and worse, she forced him to to be raised away from his father. The two have so little to do with his upbringing that Achilles doesn't even recognize his mother when he sees her for the first time in the book.
  • Parental Substitute: Achilles spent most of his childhood being taught by Chiron with no contact from his birth parents, so he treats Chiron more as a mother and father than either parent. This is best demonstrated when Achilles falls asleep after reuniting with his mother and ends up snuggling to sleep with the old centaur, more comfortable with him than his own mother.
  • Prequel: The book is set ten years before The Iliad and promises to explain how Achilles became a hero of legend. We see Achilles' training under Chiron, Thetis' first attempts to avert her son's destined death, and even the first meeting of Achilles and the Hero of Another Story, Ulysses.
  • Prongs of Poseidon: Neptune is introduced wielding what else but a trident, although he oddly uses it to urge forward the sea monsters and dolphins in his service and not as a weapon.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Thetis tries to get Achilles on-board with pretending to be a girl by appealing to other Greek heroes and gods who took on feminine traits. She mentions that Hercules worked as a seamstress, Bacchus wore fashionable robes, Jupiter shapeshifted into a woman, and the great hero Caenus lived as both a man and a woman. It doesn't end up convincing Achilles, who inherited a pretty traditional idea of masculinity from his father and his centaur mentor.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Thetis gets the king of Scyros to take Achilles in on the premise that he's really his own sister, who no one ever heard of before. The only reason the king doesn't question it is that she's a god and even a god's lies deserve some respect.
  • Seers: Calchas returns from The Iliad to commune with the gods to tell the Greeks where Achilles is hidden. His method of divination combines augury, burning offerings, and spreading incense, all of which manifests in him undergoing a series of muscle spasms as the gods overtake his mind.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Deidamia is as beautiful as Athena, if Athena got rid of the war-helmet, gorgon-shield, and ferocious gaze that keeps her from being a sight to behold.
  • Super-Speed:
    • As a daughter of the ocean, Thetis is able to swim massive distances in seconds. In just three breaststrokes, she travels from the bottom of the ocean just outside Troy to the shallows of Thessaly, which in real life are over one hundred and fifty miles away on opposite ends of the Aegean Sea.
    • In his youth, Achilles learned how to sprint faster than any deer or centaur and even outrace throwing spears on his bare feet.
  • Super-Toughness: According to the narrator, Achilles' limbs can't be pierced by steel because they were dipped in the River Styx. Since the book ends before Achilles can get into a fight, this remains an Informed Attribute.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Thetis speaks about Hercules' time sewing and working with wool as if doing so was just as feminine as Jupiter literally turning into a woman.
  • Token Heroic Orc: Chiron lacks everything awful about other centaurs. His home has no blood-soaked spears, broken trees, or signs of familial in-infighting like all other centaurs have, and instead serves as a place of healing and rest.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Chiron tries to hide his tears as he asks Thetis to come back soon as she takes away the boy he had raised without giving him a chance to say goodbye.
  • Unwillingly Girly Tomboy: Thetis presents Achilles to Lycomedes as one of these. According to Thetis, Achilles is her daughter and needs to be taught to be marriageable instead of hunting like an Amazon. By selling the demigod as a tomboy, Thetis deftly convinces Lycomedes to rationalize Achilles' obvious masculinity and to keep him away from the soldiers and armories Thetis knows will drive him to join the Trojan War.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: In Book I, Achilles goes to sleep in a cave under a mountain and wakes up in bright daylight with waves crashing right next to him as an unfamiliar woman looms over him. He's frightened at first and it takes a second for him to realize the woman is his Missing Mom, who explains how she abducted him in the night.
  • Wanted a Son Instead: Lycomedes mentions that he wishes he had a son to send off to help the Greeks in the Trojan War, which is part of why he's so easily fooled at the prospect of having a great hero like Ulysses become his son-in-law.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Ulysses and Diomedes pretend to arrive in Scyros in search of love, but in reality are just attempting to trick Achilles into joining the Trojan War. The narration explicitly compares them to wolves tricking a shepherd's guard-dog into letting them prey on its master's flock.
  • The Worf Effect: Centaurs are well-known in Classical Mythology for ripping up hills and trees with their bare-hands, so the audience knows Achilles isn't the helpless child Thetis remembers when Chiron tells her about how he's single-handedly robbed and routed centaurs all over the countryside.