Becoming Achilles: Child-sacrifice, War, and Misrule in the lliad and Beyond
Viewing the Iliad and myth through the lens of modern psychology, in Becoming Achilles: Child-Sacrifice, War, and Misrule in the Iliad and Beyond, Richard Holway shows how the epic underwrites individual and communal catharsis and denial. Sacrificial childrearing generates but also threatens agonistic, glory-seeking ancient Greek cultures. Not only aggression but knowledge of sacrificial parenting must be purged.
Just as Zeus contrives to have threats to his regime play out harmlessly (to him) in the mortal realm, so the Iliad dramatizes threats to Archaic and later Greek cultures in the safe arena of poetic performance. The epic represents in displaced form destructive mother-son and father-daughter liaisons and resulting strife within and between generations.
Holway calls into question the Iliad’s (and many scholars’) presentation of Achilles as a hero who speaks truth to power, learns through suffering, and exemplifies kingly virtues that Agamemnon lacks. So too the Iliad’s cathartic process, whether conceived as purging innate aggression or arriving at moral clarity. Instead, Holway argues, Achilles (and Socrates) try to prove they are not what at bottom they experience themselves to be—needy, defenseless children, who fear to acknowledge, much less speak out against, parents' use of them to meet parents' needs.
What emerges from Holway’s analysis is not only a new reading of the Iliad, from its first word to its last, but a revised account of the family dynamics underlying ancient Greek cultures.
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abuse accord with themis Achaians Achaians and Trojans Achilles Agamem Agamemnon angry Anytus Aphrodite Apollo Athena Athenian attempt avenge betrayal Bowlby care-seeking caregivers child child-sacriﬁcing claims to superiority conﬁdence conﬂict curse death Demeter Demeter’s deny destructive devaluation devastating Diomedes dishonor divine mother epic erotic father and king father-daughter favored daughter fellow Achaians ﬁght ﬁghting ﬁgure ﬁrst glorious glory goddesses gods Hektor Helen heogony Hera Hera and Athena Hera’s hero hero-sons heroic culture Homeric humiliation husband identiﬁcation Iliad immortal incest inferior inﬂict killing Klytemnestra Leto Lykaon marital marriage maternal anger Menelaos ménis métis mortal father mother-favored mother-son Muellner myth narrative népios nostos nurture Odysseus ordinary outrage parent-ﬁgures parents Paris Paris’s Patroklos Patroklos’s Peleus Peleus’s Phoinix Plato’s provoke Psamathe reﬂect rejection relationships responsibility revenge role sacriﬁce seductive shame Skamander Slatkin Socrates son’s sons themis Thetis Thetis’s threat trauma Troy trust vengeful victim violence vulnerability wife wives Zeus Zeus’s