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The Death and Afterlife of Achilles

Jonathan S. Burgess

Publication Year: 2009

Achilles’ death—by an arrow shot through the vulnerable heel of the otherwise invincible mythic hero—was as well known in antiquity as the rest of the history of the Trojan War. However, this important event was not described directly in either of the great Homeric epics, the Iliad or the Odyssey. Noted classics scholar Jonathan S. Burgess traces the story of Achilles as represented in other ancient sources in order to offer a deeper understanding of the death and afterlife of the celebrated Greek warrior. Through close readings of additional literary sources and analysis of ancient artwork, such as vase paintings, Burgess uncovers rich accounts of Achilles’ death as well as alternative versions of his afterlife. Taking a neoanalytical approach, Burgess is able to trace the influence of these parallel cultural sources on Homer’s composition of the Iliad. With his keen, original analysis of hitherto untapped literary, iconographical, and archaeological sources, Burgess adds greatly to our understanding of this archetypal mythic hero.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

My 2001 book, The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle, can be understood as a methodological introduction for the present book, which focuses on the character of Achilles, both within and outside of Homeric epic. I have explored the topic in various publications over the past decade (Burgess 1995, 1999, 2001b, 2004b, 2004c, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c), parts of which have now been revised and reconstituted with much new material to form the whole

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Note to Reader

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pp. xiii-

For ancient proper names, I employ traditional, Latinized spellings for the most familiar names but routinely use direct transliterations (apologies for the inconsistency). Somewhat differently than before, the term cyclic when capitalized refers to the specific poems of the Epic Cycle and their earlier versions or performance traditions; uncapitalized, it refers to oral epic poems of their type (countless and mostly undocumented).

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

The death and afterlife of Achilles would seem to have little to do with Homer: Achilles does not die in the Iliad, and the Homeric poem is decidedly reticent about any special afterlife for the hero. The other Homeric poem, the Odyssey, puts the hero squarely in Hades. The Homeric poems, however, developed within mythological traditions that included extensive material about Achilles....

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1 The Early Life of Achilles

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pp. 7-25

Before we proceed to an examination of the death of Achilles, episodes from earlier in his mythological biography need to be considered. Talking of the hero’s “biography” may seem misguided when in surviving early Greek epic Achilles is just one character in the larger story of Troy. And surveying episodes in Achilles’ life that often seem obscure, contradictory, and post-Homeric may appear antiquarian....

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2 The Death of Achilles

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pp. 27-42

In the previous chapter, rather than proposing a pre-Homeric version of the earlylife of Achilles, I employed a thematic exploration of the various tales of his youththat survive. The greater amount of evidence for the death of Achilles encourages a bolder approach, although I do not aim to reconstitute a lost poem (such as the Aithiopis) or any specific account of Achilles’ death. I remain rather cautious...

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3 The Destiny of Achilles in the Iliad

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pp. 43-55

Chapter 2 established the outlines of the pre-Homeric story of Achilles death; inthis chapter, the Iliad’s direct references to the death of Achilles are examined.The poem seems to assume preexisting traditions that are known to its audience.The relevant passages are incomplete and at times seemingly contradictory, butnonetheless it became clear that the Iliad displays awareness of a traditional tale...

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4 Intertextuality and Oral Epic

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pp. 56-71

Neoanalysts have often thought that the story of the death of Achilles influenced the Iliad’s composition. They have conceived of the Iliad’s source as a pre-Homeric epic, now often reconceived as an oral prototype of the Cyclic poem Aithiopis. That issue needs further discussion, as does, more importantly, the significance of the Iliad’s reflection of Achilles’ death. Should the relationship...

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5 The Death of Achilles in the Iliad

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pp. 72-92

We have established how the death of Achilles could have been narrated in pre-Homeric myth (chapter 2), examined direct references to the death of Achilles in the Iliad (chapter 3), and considered the nature of intertextuality in the Archaic Age (chapter 4). Now it is time to examine possible reflections of the fabula of the death of Achilles in the Iliad, as effected through “motif transference.” This...

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6 Motif Sequences in the Iliad

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pp. 93-97

As demonstrated in chapter 5, the Iliad alludes to the fabula of the death of Achilles through motif transference. A further line of inquiry is to explore the possible arrangement of these transferred motifs. Chapter 4 has shown that Iliadic reflection of the whole war seems to involve some conglomeration of transferred motifs; a series of motifs about the beginning of the war occur in the first part of the...

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7 Burial and Afterlife of Achilles

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pp. 98-110

The story of Achilles does not end with his death. Although the Iliad stresses heroic mortality, Achilles was usually thought to have an afterlife (see motif G in chapter 2). Books 11 and 24 of the Odyssey place the shade of the hero in Hades, but the Homeric view should not be assumed to be primary or even especially authoritative; most mythopoetic accounts gave a paradisiacal setting for the hero’s...

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8 Tomb and Cult of Achilles

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pp. 111-131

After focusing in earlier chapters on mythopoetic accounts of Achilles, we now consider other perspectives. Whereas the preceding chapter discussed Achilles’ burial mound and his translation to Leuke, this chapter focuses on the real-world locations associated with his tumulus and translation, the Troad and the Black Sea. The death and afterlife of Achilles were of interest outside of early Greek epic and long after the Archaic Age.Cult worship of Achilles in the...

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Conclusion

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pp. 132-134

The death and afterlife of Achilles were traditional narratives that should not beexcluded from the Homeric poems. The Iliad, it is true, narrates just one episode from the Trojan War: the withdrawal and return of Achilles.1 But the poem contains and reflects the larger story of Achilles’ life and death. Non-Homeric mythology about Achilles is a thematically consistent body of traditional stories that...

Appendix: The Fabula of the Death of Achilles

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pp. 135-

Notes

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pp. 137-158

References

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pp. 159-176

Index

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pp. 177-184


E-ISBN-13: 9781421403618
E-ISBN-10: 1421403617
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890291
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890292

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 23 halftones, 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Homer. Iliad.
  • Achilles (Greek mythology) in literature.
  • Epic poetry, Greek -- History and criticism.
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