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When I set out to write ‘No Greater Love’ I used a story I thought was from the ‘Iliad’ by Homer which was written circa 760-710 BC. It is the one that tells of how how Thetis, the mother of Achilles, fearful for her son’s safety sends him off to the court of King Lycomedes of Skyros to live as a girl rather than risk death in war.
I was wrong about the source of this story. The actually written story comes from an unfinished poem entitled the ‘Achilleid.’ The Achilleid is an unfinished epic poem by Publius Papinius Statius written circa 92 AD that was intended to present the life of Achilles from his youth through his death at Troy. Only about one and a half books were completed before the poet's death. What remains is an account of the hero's early life with Chiron the centaur, and an episode in which his mother Thetis disguised him as a girl on the island of Scyros before he joined the Greek expedition against Troy.
Thetis, mother to Achilles sent her son to King Lycomedes's court when he was nine and presented to the king as Achilles' sister. There he dressed as a girl and was brought up among the daughters of Lycomedes It is thought the boy went under the name "Pyrrha" (the red-haired girl). Thetis preferred to have her son live a long inglorious life rather then that risk the ravages of war.
According to this story, Odysseus learns from the prophet Calchas that the Achaeans would be unable to capture Troy without Achilles' aid. Odysseus goes to Skyros in the guise of a peddler selling women's clothes and jewelry and places a shield and spear among his goods. When Achilles instantly takes up the spear, Odysseus sees through his disguise and convinces him to join the Greek campaign. In another version of the story, Odysseus arranges for a trumpet alarm to be sounded while he was with Lycomedes' women; while the women flee in panic, Achilles prepares to defend the court, thus giving his identity away.
From the 'Achilleid';
(363) The sire accedes to her words, and receives the disguised Achilles by his mother’s ruse — who can resist when gods deceive? Nay more, he venerates her with a suppliant’s hand, and gives thanks that he was chosen; nor is the band of duteous Scyrian maidens slow to dart keen glances at the face of their new comrade, how she o’ertops them by head and neck, how broad her expanse of breast and shoulders; then they invite her to join the dance and approach the holy rites, and make room for her in their ranks and rejoice to be near her.
My take on the story of Achilles, ‘No Greater Love, a Novel of World War II’ is now available on Amazon.com as a Kindle ebook.
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