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The Achilles Heart

Achilles Heel: Weakness or Strength?

"The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again."

So a lot of us have heard the story about the Achilles heel, but very few get what it actually may mean. I considered myself to be an aspiring writer until I finally decided to get off my butt and start writing a book. It began with me getting into research as far as what the heck do I need to know to start writing my first book. I started with a number of sources, but one in particular, I felt, did me the most justice: How to Read Literature Like an English Professor by Thomas E. Foster. 

Now, already off the jump, if you're not a somewhat experienced writer, or reader at that, you're probably saying, "What does reading English literature have to do with writing?" To be honest when I bought the book I didn't expect for it to be such a utensil when it came to writing, I was just curious after reading a few first pages about how the rest of this would play out. I figured a text book camouflaged as a story telling book could be my "Huckleberry." As I began to ease into chapter after chapter, finding Foster's ability to act as a relaxed teacher page after page amusing, I couldn't help but keep flipping. There I am learning and enjoying the sense of intellectual humor he had going on along with the dark but also truthful techniques of story telling and not only that, but the proper tools to break down those techniques to enjoy a better story. Alas, I reached upon chapter 7 "Hanseldee and Greteldum" where he really began to dig into the roots. This chapter explained the idea of each story and how it is always the fact of one or two or maybe more going on this journey away from home but while trying to find their way home. We all know the story of Hansel and Gretel, so needless to say we could imagine an adventurer lost in the woods, or what could be described as life, trying to find their way home, or themselves. But what we have is an established base, the idea of one being on a journey to and from somewhere. As I move into chapter 8 "It's Greek to Me," for those of you who enjoy following the main characters and plots of books, short stories, and even TV shows along with movies, this is where it starts to get juicy.

I'd assume we all heard the stories of Achilles, an awesome Greek warrior protected by the gods only lacking in defeat, carrying the deadliest sword and most elite shield and armour known to man at the time, and how his one weakness and vulnerability came down to a single factor where he took an arrow stricken blow to the one piece of body exposed with no armour, the heel. That part of the story seems to have caught most of our attention as metaphorically there are a lot of comparisons that can be made to this not-so-obvious impotence. 

But doesn't every protagonist have a back story? Why they do what they do? Become who they become? Why you do what you do, and become who you become? The Jewish baker came as an immigrant in 1940 hidden on a large boat with one suitcase and began to sell pizzas out of a shack until he could bring his entire family overseas to the land of the free to open a family owned pizza dynasty that is still here in 2018 passed on generation after generation. Or the story of an African-American former slave who in the 1870s finally was able to buy off a piece of farm land that only expanded throughout the years to one day develop into a corporation that would eventually be a prime contributed to the local black community. Or the hispanic man that finally saved enough money just so his children could go to school in America, for a better education and overall life. All these have a similar back story of a traveler whether forced or not, who left the comfort of a particular setting to end up doing great things to be remembered by. 

Back to Achilles, Achilles was known for his ruthlessness, his confidence and strength. The ability to instill fear in his enemies just by appearing, just by his name. But under all that what was his back story? Do you know? Like most of us, he came from less than you'd imagine. I mean his father did fight by the side of Hercules, and his mother, goddess of the most divine, water. But who were they to us, what stories of Thetis and Peleus have you actually heard without searching or asking? Unless you're some sort of scholar, or literary enthusiast, maybe even had a keen interest in Greek mythology and their legends, most likely you've never heard the names. You may not even have heard the name of Achilles.

When you go into the history of such a great stature you learn more about what they did and less of what they did to get there. Achilles was made; he took his lesser background and decided to leave home and build himself into the most powerful, the most fierce, the most feared. But what makes a small person large? It's their heart. The very thing driving us is their most vulnerable weakness. Just as one could not run without their heels attached, one cannot live without their heart; one could not die without the allowance for such fragility. Achilles' heart brought him to greatness but also ruled his plunder. Before his last battles in the war with Troy, Achilles had become angry at the king he fought for Agamemnon. Agamemnon had taken Briseis after the loss of his bride, who had first belonged to Achilles. This angered Achilles causing him to take his men and hold back from the war. Agamemnon knew the only way to win this war was with the help of Achilles. But it doesn't end here. This then sets in motion for Achilles closest cousin, Patroclus, to disobey his orders leading Achilles men into battle. But it doesn't end here. (As we all know the better are doing the more attention you attract, from supporters and haters alike). 

Patroclus not only disobeyed Achilles but wore his armor. He ran like him, threw his sword like him. Achilles striking fear in many is a target, entering the war as him then makes you a target. Prince of Troy, Hector, then spots who he believes is Achilles and pursues to face him in battle killing him only to discover after taking the fallen soldiers helmet off who it really was...(but that's another story in itself about consequences of pretending or giving the allusion you are something or someone you aren't). Achilles, after learning of his dear friend's fate rages into battle with a broken heart this time, killing Hector and so on. 

In the end you find Achilles' greatest weakness was not just a heel, not just lack of protection/armor, not just his flawed aggression, but instead his finest strength, his heart. Some will say, well if it lead to death it must be a weakness. But eventually in a literal sense we all die; eventually no matter the cause we are ruled dead once our heart stops pumping. Who ever accomplished anything great without a backstory full of tribulation and overcoming struggles? If a rough backstory creates heart, endurance, adaptability, force, energy, and life itself, who ever accomplished anything great without one, without a heart?

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