Visiting Achilles

The Greeks raised a tomb on the Troad to their greatest hero …

over your bones we reared a grand, noble tomb – devoted veterans all, Achaea’s combat forces – high on its jutting headland over Hellespont’s broad reach, a landmark glimpsed from far out at sea by men of our own day and men of days to come.

Much later, Alexander came and paid homage …

the gravestone of Achilles he anointed with oil, ran a race by it with his companions, naked, as is the custom, and then crowned it with garlands … As he was going about and viewing the sights of the city (Ilium), someone asked him if he wished to see the lyre of Paris. For that lyre, said Alexander, I care very little; but I would gladly see that of Achilles, to which he used to sing the glorious deeds of brave men.

For Arrian, the hero’ closest companion was honored too …

Alexander then encircled the tomb of Achilles with a garland; and it is said that Hephaestion decorated that of Patroclus in the same way.

Patroclus had a monument? Strabo said so …

Near the Sigeium is a temple and monument of Achilles, and monuments also of Patroclus and Anthlochus. The Ilienses perform sacred ceremonies in honour of them all, and even of Ajax

but it is strange that when criticizing Homer to the Ilians, Dio Chrysostom clearly says there is only one tomb …

Then Homer had a misgiving that there might actually be some search for the tomb of Patroclus — it would naturally be, I suppose, clearly marked just as are the tombs of the other chieftains also who were slain at Troy — so, safeguarding himself against this, he says that Patroclus had no separate tomb but was buried with Achilles

The Roman emperor Caracella fancied himself as Achilles which cost his freedman …

coming last to the tomb of Achilles; he adorned this tomb lavishly with garlands of flowers, and immediately he became Achilles. Casting about for a Patroclus, he found one ready to hand in Festus, his favorite freedman, keeper of the emperor’s daily record book. This Festus died at Troy; some say he was poisoned so that he could be buried as Patroclus, but others say he died of disease. Caracalla ordered a huge pyre of logs to be erected and the body of Festus placed in the center. After sacrificing animals of all kinds, the emperor set fire to the funeral pile; then, taking a bowl and pouring a libation, he offered prayers to the winds. Since he was almost entirely bald, he made himself ridiculous when he wished to place his curls upon the blaze; he did, however, shear off what little hair he had.

Caracella’s commemorative burial mound is probably Ujek Tepeh, later thought to be the Prophet Elias’ tomb.

Philostratus wrote that Apollonius slept on the tomb though warned not to as Achilles was a terrible phantom. Elsewhere he wrote that the old warrior ghosts still could be seen by night on the Trojan plain in their battle dress, horsehair plumes and all. But when the hero came to Apollonius, he was …

a youth issued forth five cubits high, wearing a cloak of Thessalian fashion; but in appearance he was by no means the braggart figure which some imagine Achilles to have been. Though he was stern to look upon, he had never lost his bright look; and it seems to me that his beauty has never received its meed of praise, even though Homer dwelt at length upon it; for it was really beyond the power of words, and it is easier for the singer to ruin his fame in this respect than to praise him as he deserved.

This pretty boy went on to answer Apollonius’ bland questions about the Trojan war. One was whether Patroclus was in there with him. The answer was yes.

And finally, after Christianity’s rise, Julian went to the Achilleum and saw the sepulchre unhurt.

Finally? Christians had no interest in the hero. Then, in the nineteenth century, learned men tried to see which mound in the Troad held him. Was it Kesik Tepe, aka Demetrius Tumulus, or the smaller Kum Tepe or Besika Tepeh further south? And we still don’t know and did they? Alexander and his fellow pilgrims? Did they circle one and the same mound? Don’t know and never will.

10 Responses to “Visiting Achilles”

  1. jett Says:

    It would be interesting to know if any of the archaeological teams have made an effort to locate thse monuments/tombs. I suspect they haven’t but wouldn’t be surprised if from the descriptions given, there isn’t a chance they could be found. Good post.

  2. conor Says:

    The plain has many tumuli. They have always invited interpretation and all have been examined.

    Three bigger ones are man made or enhanced. In Tepeh or “Tomb of Ajax” on the Hellespont was “rebuilt” by Hadrian, the Yassi Tepe/Besik Tepe down opposite Tenedos had a limestone cover in Hellenist times and was perhaps thought of by some to be the tomb of Achilles and Ujek Tepeh was erected or built on by Caracella to reenact Achilles’ burial of Patroclus. None had human remains.

    The mounds were reinterpreted by the Christians until they left when Turkey formed. Kesik tepe was named for St. Demetrius, Ujek Tepeh for the prophet Elias!

  3. jett Says:

    Ok, I didn’t know any of that. Live and learn. However, lack of bodies…when I read that I immediately - for whatever reason - thought of Herodium just south of Bethlehem. For the last couple thousand years local tradition had it that Herod was buried there but no one could ever find a body or any indication and it was basically just written off and assumed that Herod had built it for himself but was buried elsewhere. That is until this past year when they found a bunch of bodies. Sometimes, tradition has more than a grain of truth to it and it takes time for the secrets of history to be revealed. In the case of troy, we can only hope. :) Thanks for the detailed answer though as I really appreciated that.

  4. conor Says:

    Dig, dig is the moral of this and don’t presume tradition is just for old ladies! Early archeology went from text to the ground. Now, it let’s the ground speak for itself. But I think traditions - in their place - still have a strong place.

  5. loopmob Says:

    Next time include sources please =)

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