“Sing, O muse, the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.”
This is Homer’s powerful opening verse of the Iliad – the epic built around the ten-year siege of Troy. In a few words, it tells us plenty about the nature of anger. It speaks of betrayal, of struggle and death; of the harm brought by Achilles, whose name literally spells out fear and grief. It reveals the ironic truth and tragic climax of the narrative: the story is not about the fall of Troy, but of Achilles. For Achilles was an Achaean, the best of them too. Achilles was his own target, and he never missed.
I cannot, for the interpreter in me would not let me, read the Iliad and not inscribe into this Greek classic, the story which has filled every column of our papers, and every post on our blogs and social media over the past two weeks. What we have seen and heard this year, is the tenth year of the siege of Troy: the wrath of Achilles unchained, pushing the Trojans and their allies back against the great, unbreachable walls of the golden city of Troy. Achilles knew the city was not his to bring down. He knew he would die at its gates before Helen was to be justly returned to her husband, Melenaus, and saved from the greedy, lustful clutches of Paris. But Achilles still fought, enraged and embittered by his own personal loss. His stubbornness would not let him rest. Indeed, his insufferable pride led to inflated hardship, and worse still, it cost his fellow Achaeans much grief, reproach and humiliation.
The stories, facts, rumours, myths – call them what you will – which have been unfolding more furiously over the past year reached a climax this month, with the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Hers, too, was a ten-year online siege against individuals, institutions and a system which wronged her…and a nation. She fought relentlessly, often bringing people down to their knees single-handedly. Achilles had the spear, she had the pen. And people trembled, for no one wanted to be punctured by the tip of that weapon, deadly sharp as it was. But Achilles, fearsome Achilles, was not much of a hero during his lifetime; nor was Daphne. Both were despised, dare I say, as much as they were loved for what they could do and, ironically, for what they didn’t. The shrines of mourning, immortalizing their name and deeds, were only set up once their ashen bodies had been swallowed up by the earth. So what are we left with now?
We are left with a broken, disheartened army. We are left with followers who, for the greater part, no longer trust who they have followed so far; who feel cheated and betrayed by their leaders who, like Agamemnon, had promised rich bounties and glory to whoever fought beside him. But they never mentioned the grime that comes along with it. Amalthea’s cornucopia has overflown, and like a spring which has run dry, is now only spewing out mud.
Achilles was right: “There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind… nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or the other shall fall.” We cannot afford to make peace with the structure that allowed this to happen. It is not becoming of us to allow our identity to be marred by what is not in our nature, else we be corrupted by wealth and rage, and the whole lot that leads to death. But if we must fall, we must fall pushing against the seemingly impenetrable walls of Troy, like Daphne. For we know how the Iliad ends. Troy does fall. And it falls at the hands of the son of Achilles.