Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rous'd His Drowsy Blood

[Written for the Yuletide Challenge of 2009]

Heaven preserve me from the vindictive feelings you cherish, warping a noble nature to ignoble ends.
- Patroclus to Achilles; The Iliad (tr. E.V. Rieu)
With too much blood and too little brain, these two may run mad...
- Thersites; Troilus & Cressida (W. Shakespeare)

He is not willing to hand Patroclus over without a fight. Open wide and take your medicine; he gently slips the coin into Patroclus' mouth, fighting the urge to snatch it back. I'll fight you for him, I'll fight you for him. He wants to hide the coin in the sackcloth on his back, in the smeared ashes, in the pile of shorn red hair, that looks like dead and dying flames.

Come on, old Charon. I'll fight you for him. I'll fight you and I'll fight your dog too. Achilles clutches Patroclus' funeral shroud, his hand a fist in the snowy white material. He does not want to let go and they can't make him. He will wait for Charon, right here. That filthy old man can climb onto the funeral pyre if he wants to take Patroclus. Achilles' whole body shudders at the thought of Charon's bony fingers closing around Patroclus' ankle. The Myrmidons murmur at their chief's grief and they say it is a red rag to a bull. May the gods help Hector. The Spartans turn their faces away, embarrassed by this unseemly show of sorrow. It is excessive but that is Achilles, even in the face of such a death. Some dare to wonder aloud if Achilles wishes he was in Patroclus' place (although Patroclus was in Achilles' place and so it was and so it always has been). Contrary to popular opinion, Achilles does not have a death-wish. There will be time enough to make his indelible mark on the Underworld but Achilles, living and breathing and raging, is indispensible. The Greeks are lucky to have him, even in the anarchic depths of his sorrow and rage. (Narcissus will never have a patch on this man.)

Patroclus must burn but Achilles does not relent. If he cannot beg, borrow or steal Patroclus' life anew, he will lay on the most excessive funeral games seen this side of the wine-dark seas and every target and every prize is Hector's head and Hector's blood and Hector's innards and Hector's fingernails and kneecaps and Hector's gods-forsaken heart.


Achilles remembers, of course. He remembers when he first met Patroclus. Two young men, scarcely more than boys, eyeing each other doubtfully.

"I killed a man," said Patroclus. "Just to watch him die." And then he said, in an apologetic rush, "That's not true. It was an accident. He was my friend. That's why I've been sent away."

Achilles didn't know that he and Patroclus would be friends. He and Patroclus were cousins, apparently, except that Patroclus was not divine. (Oh, Patrocluswas divine.)

"When I was a baby, my mother tried to drown me and then she tried to burn me alive." Achilles looked at Patroclus with all defiance and was affronted when Patroclus did not lower his eyes or beg his pardon.

"I'm older than you," said Patroclus.

"Age before beauty, then!"

Patroclus was older than Achilles; he looked his new companion up and down, the way he had seen his father look at the maidservants. "As you say, O Beauteous Achilles."

There was something mischievous in Patroclus' tone, something altogether irreverent, and it knocked the breath out of Achilles (so he knocked Patroclus down). They began to wrestle and punch and the glorious, sweaty fight was worth the punishment levied on them by Cheiron.

Achilles remembers the moment he first realised that Patroclus was as hot-blooded as he. The nights were often cold and Cheiron did as Cheiron did and Achilles and Patroclus might be left to their own devices for days and nights at a time. They did not object; they were young men who could be kings. They relished their little freedoms, away from courtly life and goddess' meddling. They strategised by camp-fires and pointed sticks and drawings in the warm mud were battlefields enough for them.

"I am to lead a boring life, if my mother has her way," announced Achilles.

Patroclus looked around at the flickering shadows, at the cave-mouth, at this wilderness in which they were kings. "Do you intend to be a farmer, then?" he asked, drawing his stick across Achilles' carefully drawn battle-lines. "You will spend your days fretting about the rain and the rocks and never think of me for fear of becoming quite over-excited." Patroclus was all confidence. "I will be a soldier," he announced. "I will be the greatest warrior in this whole land."

Oh, Achilles was stung. There was nothing like the pride of another to awaken his own arrogance and Achilles did as Achilles did. "I will be the greatest warrior in all the lands!"

Patroclus tilted his head and narrowed his eyes and he did not need to speak his challenge aloud. The fights were always best when Cheiron was not there to separate them. Achilles does not know when split knuckles became a lover's caress but his thumb would glide across Patroclus' bruised cheek and Patroclus would raise Achilles' knuckles to his mouth.

"Hyacinthos," said Achilles, his eyes drifting shut.

"Oho, and that makes you Apollo, I assume?"

"Hmmm, and who is our West Wind? Though you will keep your head on your shoulders a while yet." Achilles was certain and Patroclus laughed, his lazy, contented laugh that warmed Achilles more than fires or his own whiplash scorn at the whole wide world.

"Hubris is our West Wind, or yours at least." (Oh, trust Patroclus to grow sombre in the space of a single heartbeat.)

"My mother is a goddess," said Achilles. He locked his arm tight around Patroclus' neck.

"So you always say," murmured Patroclus, "whenever you have lost an argument."


Achilles' mother is a goddess.

Patroclus is dead and the war rages on and his corpse is the decaying epicentre. His armour has been stripped from his body and all of the best Greeks fight over him (except for that notable exception who is, even now, walking with his mother by the shore). New armour will be crafted for Achilles, better than before. Hector will rue the day.

Achilles' mother is quite mad; even he can see that. She sways in the shallows and tells him that he should have been a farmer. He might have lived to a ripe old age and Achilles balks at the very notion that some day his skin might sag and his hair might fall out. He will never be a toothless old man. Patroclus might not recognise him, even in the flattering shades of Hades. In any case, he has no intention of making Patroclus wait over-long, now that he has chosen his path.

"Do you remember the day I sent you to live in Lycomedes' court?"

"Oh, yes." This brave soldier does not get his feet wet as he walks along the sands. Of couse he remembers. What boy could forget the day his mother stuffed him into a dress to hide him from such horrid, wonderful things as war and death and blood? He bows, a near-imperceptible inclination of his head. (He learned such gently-mocking gestures from Patroclus.) "It does not appear to have worked, Mother."

Thetis draws herself up to her full height. She could destroy Troy in her rage or at least unsettle the livestock and worry the priestesses.

"I remember the day," she says. "You told me you would as soon wear Patroclus' clothes and skin and sinew; that he would keep you safe or die trying! Well, he has, I suppose, but you have always had a prescient bent, my son." She tosses her head and her hair flies about, like thick clumps of damp seaweed (some watered-down Medusa). "I knew that you would make a pretty girl. He had filled your head with such fancies and you believed them, like any young maiden might. You did your best to ruin it, of course. Deidamia's little red-headed son begotten with one of her own handmaidens!" Achilles smiles, though it was quite the wrong sort of Pyrrhic victory. He liked Deidamia well enough for a season or two and she gave him a fine son.

They walk in silence for a time, Thetis occasionally becoming distracted by shells or swirls or eddies. "Let me tell you about love, my boy."

Achilles knows what follows; he has heard it often enough. Let me tell you about love, my boy. I love your father, well enough, for a mortal man. Soon, though, he will be no more than dust and I shall shake him off my sandals. It is strange for she is always barefoot. So it is with your Patroclus. Only dust.

Achilles should be angry but Patroclus is not dust yet.

"Zeus should have been your father," Thetis declares, laying her water-wrinkled finger-tips on his cheek. "You should have been great."

"I am great," Achilles says. "I am Achilles. Zeus should, Zeus should. I do not care! Better that Odysseus should have kept his nose out of it or that Paris should have kept his-"

Thetis' son is a mortal (and yet he knows that mortal men are to blame).

"You will not kill Hector while you are wearing sackcloth," she intones with a lovely sigh, as though a lack of armour will be enough to dissuade Achilles. "If you kill him, you will die."

It is Achilles' stark expression that makes her blood run cold.


Achilles kills Hector. It cannot be desecration when it is vengeance. This ugly task done, it does not seem to matter that an entire civilisation is quaking behind its solid walls. They have seen the wrath of Achilles and they are afraid. He is invulnerable, that is how the whisper goes and grows. He is invulnerable. No one can believe that this half-mad, half-immortal man can die but the gods move in mysterious ways.

Half-mad and cowering in the sands because Patroclus must burn, Achilles mourns. He sacrifices dogs and horses and pretty Trojans. This is how he cares for the very man who warned him of this ugly end. Patroclus said it and Achilles laughed. "O, Patroclus the Wise. We will not die!" he said. "I am Achilles."

Patroclus the patient, idling by the gates of the Underworld until, at last, he comes to Achilles, an anaemic shade. He looks so reproachful that Achilles might have laughed; it was the very expression that had been Patroclus' face when Achilles told him he was prettier than any maiden in Peleus' court.

"They will not let me in," says Patroclus' ghost and Achilles is fiercely exultant that he has won, that Patroclus has not left him. "You will join me soon," Patroclus' ghost says. "Our ashes will sit in the same urn and your skin will (finally) be my skin, your heart my heart. You will be safe, don't you see?"

Achilles would scoff. He does not need to be kept safe, whether by cross-dressing or Olympian-forged armour or baby-baths in the Styx. He would scoff except that he understands his failure. Intent on revenge, he has failed Patroclus, good-natured Patroclus, who has come gently to remind him that he, too, deserves sacred funeral rites, for all that Achilles would keep him to himself. Achilles would take Patroclus in his arms now but Patroclus is as substantial as a breath of air (a warm breath on Achilles' neck in the darkness of a war-ridden, wound-riddled night).

Achilles makes his sacrifices. He makes a treaty with the river and gives Patroclus a lock of his hair in the river's stead.

Briseis weeps, as well she might. All the spoils of war weep because they know that Achilles does not fear death.

(Death would do well to fear Achilles.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


&In lieu of new content because my head's all over the place, here is some writing, first posted on 28.05.2009.


title: afterthought
summary: all about ariadne.

You were not the last-born child but you felt like an afterthought. You are not angry anymore because you are a goddess. You had a half-brother with a head like a bull and somehow you felt ugly. You had other siblings too, though you scarcely think of them and all the petty ways in which they annoyed you. There was a time that you took some satisfaction from pretty little Phaedra’s fate. She was always a liar, even when you were children and her crimson cheeks bespoke her guilt. She was the one who spilled the milk or kissed the boys (and made them cry) or took your eldest brother’s car for a ride and wrapped it around a ‘Welcome to Knossos’ roadsign.

Your brothers were not much better, truth be told. They tired of you as quickly as you tired of them and their boy-games and their toys. Androgeus won all the prizes and he was murdered just to wipe that smug look off his face, as he collected another trophy and another underwear model and a holiday for two in Athens. Glaucus was a Lazarus before his time and a regular little honey-trap and he kissed more boys than Phaedra did (when he was not picking fights). Deucalion was not the worst (he might have been the best) and it was no shame in being duped by Odysseus. Catreus was paranoid but not paranoid enough. In his position, you would have slaughtered your own children but perhaps that is the goddess in you speaking. They all thought you ineffective and pretty (in your own way, which was not Phaedra’s way of the short summer dress and plunging necklines). Androgeus pinched your behind once (he was drunk) and said that if it was not illegal and immoral, he would be an Athenian youth, to be comforted by you in the face of certain death. You were not quite sure whether he thought it more immoral to be Athenian or to make advances on his own sister. You cannot judge; you enjoy being a deliberately non-interventionist deity and your mother slept with a bull; sexual indiscretion is a family pastime.

You liked the look of Theseus. Even your father liked the cut of his jib or some sailing parlance that continued to be lost on you, for all the time in the bars by the docks, making polite conversation with sailors and exchanging kisses and numbers (you were never a saint). It helped that you did not love your half-brother and it helped that you wanted to be anywhere but here. You could never quite bring yourself to hitchhike or whore your way off Crete but helping Theseus was no better.

The whole Naxos debacle embarrassed you; you could barely look Dionysus in the face when he pitched up. You said that you had had your fill of heroes and he told you that he was not a hero, he was a god. You asked if Theseus would get what was coming to him and Dionysus laughed, that little cackle of his, and said that he would leave that to his sister-goddesses.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

& today, I'm going to see a little local rugby match in Croke Park. From the looks of it, I'll be in the Leinster section but, obviously, I'll be supporting Munster. Legitimately. I'm legitimately a Munster supporter! I grew up in Cork. I spent Saturdays on muddy sidelines in County Cork cheering on my brother's school team before I quite understood what this game was all about. When I was little, rugby was the Five Nations on the telly and the cream cakes we would eat and I mostly knew that we wanted the guys in green to win. I still want the guys in green to win, though with today's match and the Lions tour this summer, I fancy red is this season's green.

Monday, March 16, 2009

& Following a brief IM chat with my cousin, I decided I should rock on and make a blog post. He asked me about the two pictures I have adorning, respectively, my Gmail Chat profile and my Blogger profile.

i. Ellen Page. Also known as the oscar-nominated actress from Juno. The reason I use a picture of her is because, once upon a time, I was compared to the character in question. Yes, my brother and sister-in-law decided that the pregnant 16 year-old in the movie reminded them of me. I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted until I saw the movie and reckoned I could live with it.

ii. Jennifer Connolly. There's no particular reason why I should choose this woman. She's gorgeous and married to Paul Bettany so perhaps I just want to be her but, mostly, I chose this picture for the expression. I've had a Blogger account for many years and I still have an element of fear about the interwebs which is, perhaps, why I don't have a picture of myself here.

(Gleaned from the Watchdom community/captheck on livejournal.)

& Also discussed this evening was Watchmen. I went to see it last Friday in a Savoy screen packed full of people who had actually read the book. I had not read the book (although I am reading it now). Honestly? I thought the film was brilliant. I'm informed that it stayed true to the spirit of the book and, certainly, from what I've read so far, I can appreciate that. I will leave you now, with an excerpt from our IM conversation, in which I am excitable.

i'm reading the book now but i saw the movie without having read it AND IT IS AWESOME
Cousin: had you read the book?
good to know, i'd heard it was impossible to understand without it
Me: noooo. i followed it, definitely. and jeffrey dean morgan is amazing and when it comes to dr manhattan? i totally would.
just so you know
Cousin: bought the book at xmas but neither of us has read it yet
you like big blue radioactive willies?
Me: have you seen his thighs? but also, he's awesome. he's dr manhattan
Cousin: I look forward to his thighs
i'd better leave you and your over-excitement alone now.

Friday, March 13, 2009

& I'm in Boston, Massachusetts, getting ready to vacate my hotel room and I mostly don't want to leave (not the hotel room, so much as the city; not the city, so much as the country). I mostly don't want to work in this country, either, I must admit. To be a doctor here is to have no other life. I should return to my packing and contemplate when I can next go to New York and be a tourist who thinks the grass must be greener here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

(when you're down and confused)

& I'm listening to INXS again; I swear it's not all I listen to (it's just all I listen to when I manage to blog, evidently). I'm not listening to Jon McLaughlin right now and it's not because I've gone off his music; it's because his music reminds me of New York and I'm having enough issues letting go as it is.

& yes, I was in New York this week, for four and half days, and I'm pining for it. I had a wonderful time with two of my best friends. There was snow and there were museums and there was fantastic food (with a liberal helping of maple syrup when appropriate) and there was Guitar Hero and there was even a Jon McLaughlin gig (which was not helped by a pile of jetlag and fire alarms going off intermittently throughout the evening; my sense of reality had shifted markedly by the time the guy came onstage but fortunately I have photographic evidence thanks to owning the best camera ever).

& in conclusion, I want to go back.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

(baby don't cry)

&I am guilty of listening to a lot of INXS. Sad but true.
&I have a lot of cinema-going to do, of the worthy sort - like The Reader and Revolutionary Road. Also, possibly Bride Wars. Don't judge me. I lead a stressful life and occasionally, I like to go to the cinema and turn off my brain.
&I have a lot of reading to catch up on. I've read the first two books in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series and I love them. I own the next five. Now, where is the time to read them? I know, I know, it's Sunday, the weekend. Why am I not reading instead of messing about online?

Actually. I don't know. I should really step away from the laptop. I can do that. Sure.