And here we are— my Achilles tattoo. Done by James at Enso Tattoo.
A bit of background for you all: When I was a kid my mom gave me a book of Greek and Roman myths. It was written for kids, the language simple and the myths made more ‘kid friend’. Sex scenes were omitted or vaguely referenced to, and gruesome deaths were toned down so as not to frighten kids. But despite this, the stories remained much the same. I remember the first story was that of Pyramus and Thisbe, as originally told by Ovid. From that story I was hooked, and poured over the tales, finding myself more drawn to these stories than any other ones I had read. Near the end there were select books from the Iliad, once again toned down for kids, but featuring the same storyline with the same characters and the same outcomes. One of the books was book 23— Patroclus’ Funeral Games.
That was where I first ‘met’ Achilles. I remember being deeply moved by the story, and despite being only ten years old, I was immediately drawn to Achilles and who he was. What had made him so sad? Why did his best friend have to die? Why were they holding such elaborate games for the dead? Who was Hector? What was going to happen to everyone? From then on I was obsessed with the Iliad. I wanted to know more, and got my hands on a simple, prose version of the Iliad. I read it, but I struggled with the language. Instead, my mom gave me some books written by a modern writer for a modern audience, set during the events of the Iliad, but featuring their own ‘original’ characters. When I wasn’t reading these books I was playing make-believe in the backyard, pretending to be an Achaean or a Trojan. Sometimes I’d pretend to be a Gladiator.
Fast forward to my graduation from High School. I went in to University immediately, but originally entered in the Education department. I took one class and immediately dropped, instead choosing to pick up history. It felt better to me, and I knew my passion lay in Greek and Roman history. I still hadn’t been able to get rid of that deep fascination I had with the Greeks, and I hadn’t been able to forget about Achilles. From that change pretty much my entire university career dealt with Achilles in some capacity. I began to focus in on male same-sex relations, masculinity, and male warrior bonding. Achilles, and his relationship with Patroclus, had a huge impact on my interests and my decisions to continue forward with this area of study.
I wrote about Achilles in any paper I could fit him in. From papers directly about him, such as ‘Friendship and the Heroic Narrative in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad’, to papers far removed from the times of the ancient Greeks, like ‘Homosexuality and Masculinity in Nazi Germany within the Wehrmacht’. If Achilles was involved, you can bet I included him. I was just drawn to Achilles and what he represented, and how he influenced and inspired countless generations from countless cultures. His representation of the young, idealistic soldier ruined by war and loss touched me, and encouraged me to study combat PTSD and the history of it, as well as to support and aid local veterans in Canada suffering from the same mental illness that Achilles suffered from.
Achilles became my history muse. He became the reason I do what I do; why I study what I study. Why I care about what I care about. In June 2014 I graduated with a double degree in the Classics and History. My area of interest and expertise was in male same-sex relations and masculinity, with a keen focus on military units. The Greeks, the Romans, knights and lords, soldiers and commanders— I study these men, I tell their stories, and I get invested all because of one character. One broken soldier who loved too much and fought to hard from the very beginning. Achilles.
And so I tattooed him on my body. A physical reminder of my passion and my drive. A reminder of why I do what I do. Achilles has always been with me since I was a kid, and he’ll continue to be with me as I work on my Masters, my PhD, and my career.
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε…