...Panel 10: Nestor’s speech

Tydeus, the son of Oeneus, reminds Achilles of his kinship to Thersites. He protests the murder on the battlefield. Achilles returns with death threats but Artemis intervenes as the Argive princes move to stop the confrontation. Nestor speaks out against Achilles, alluding to the same suspicions that Thersites had vocalized. Plagued by the Erinýes, Achilles wishes to be delivered from his immortality.

Alone among the Argives, Tydeus, who bore the same name as the father of Diomedes, spoke against the murder of Thersites, “I share blood with Agrius, the brother of Oeneus. How can I remain silent when one of my people is slain by Achilles who pretends to be an ally. If there was vengeance to be had, it belonged to Diomedes. Achilles had no dispute with Thersites except that he spoke truth frequently. By our laws I demand atonement for this murder and before this assembly I appeal to the gods and King Agamemnon for justice.”

Achilles, hearing the challenge, drew out his sword to prepare for the fight. Pulling it quickly from the scabbard to assure a crucial edge over the Argonaut, he took deep breaths and maintained a strange posture as he moved towards Tydeus. Appearing calm, with his body balanced and positioned, he brought the blade closer to himself, looking for an opportunity to attack. As he made a quick assessment of his surroundings he moved closer with confidence. Elbows bent towards his body, he extended his sword, choosing an area between the helmet and armour.

“So we are to continue killing brothers?” taunts Tydeus, “I have no desire for vengeance, for it is not my body that was injured by the son of Peleus. Many here think that revenge, when justified, is a sacred obligation and immediate retribution an appropriate response. I do not believe in revenge that leads to internecine conflict, but I do petition justice for a murder that has been committed on these fields. If the assembly determines that Achilles has wronged Thersites, only then will there be punishment and satisfaction, for justice is not revenge.”

Aware of Achilles’ accuracy and agility, Artemis, in the form of a falcon, intervened, knowing that Tydeus had but a moment to live. Distracted, Achilles was quickly surrounded by the noblest of Achaea’s sons pleading with the mightiest of all Argives to fall back in peace. At this moment the gods found reason to intervene and were already planning revenge for the death of their chaste daughter. Ares would ask the Erinýes to exasperate the rage of Achilles, and Artemis, when she found the proper occasion, intended to guide an errant dart.

High-hearted Nestor moving up beside Tydeus spoke thus. “There is no law forbidding speech. I, too, ask why this man has been killed. I heard no king objecting to Thersites’ foolish words. We presume, by our presence on this battlefield, the son of Atreus to know what is right and wrong for this assembly. Even after resourceful Odysseus thrashed Thersites for insolence, Agamemnon allowed him to remain and permitted him to speak his mind. King Agamemnon has never dictated the thoughts we might validly think and come to know and which we might not. Was this Thersites, who acquainted himself with the ways of foreigners and spoke of things openly, truly an enemy of Argive princes to be summarily dealt the death penalty? Or has the son of Peleus witnessed too much killing to be able to distinguish right from wrong?

“I too sense something strange in the way that Achilles looks at this woman, Penthesilea of Amazon blood. She fell to his practiced sword because she may have forgotten the commonly known natural order in which the male is born of the female. The mother presides over the life of her child but princes preside over death and execution. No woman can be trained in the dispassionate guile to execute that which is born of her. Myths and legends of a race of women outside of the natural order created this warrior, Penthesilea, who as we see, was a mere mortal whose beauty was defenceless under the cold sword of the son of Thetis.

“It is true that when Thersites spoke of this he did not choose princely words when he ranted not of a great victory but of the death of a maiden. This insult wounded your pride but carried no visible threat. When Achilles imagined Penthesilea as equal to man he saw her as drawn out of the man. This impossible reversal of the natural order hides and reveals true intentions, because I believe that Achilles indeed lusted for the war queen. He felt that he was not only a greater man than the maiden, but perversely felt himself more a woman than she,” he paused to the laughter of the assembly, then continued, “and so she died on this battlefield because as long as she lived, vainglorious Achilles could never have carnally possessed a reflection of himself!”

To these words, Achilles lunged forward but the bravest of Achaea’s sons continued to surround Nestor and Tydeus.

Nestor continued, “As the greatest of warriors and an immortal you knew that this woman presented no obstacle. It was your desire for her that drove you to apply divine will and intention against this chaste maiden. The naïve words of Thersites alluded to these things and for that he was slain.”

Nestor’s voice rose as he turned toward the body of Penthesilea, “This was not a great victory but a lustful murder to bring shame and defeat to all Achaeans!”

To these words rose a noise of approval as the crowd anticipated Achille’s response.

The winged Erinýes, children of the blood of Ouranos, still hovering by the body of the queen, were suddenly interested in the altercation. Alecto of unceasing anger, Tisiphone, avenger of murder and fratricide, and Megaera, always sensing jealousy, came to taste the flesh of this half-god with his sword poised to murder the elderly Nestor.

Then the Erinýes embraced Achilles with hurt, anguish and pain. He looked at Penthesilea and beyond at the fallen and bloodied around him and he saw his sword turned against the father of his friend Antilochus. It was then that he realised that there would be no end to it.

Strength comes from the distinction that we can make between reality and illusion. Achilles suddenly felt in his soul the reality of the land and the sea. Up to this point, the gods had created for him a world where illusion had become his reality and now he faced charges of murder, a human crime. The existence of Penthesilea drained his strength. The thought that she could take a position in history, that she could have children and independently raise them, was an insult to the man. She deserved to die but first she had to become a subhuman entity that deserved his rage and so, in battle, he met a surrogate, an enemy undefined. In the process all meaning was misplaced, even Troy existed only in the imagination. Now he saw her broken and desired only to be at her side, his spirit exhausted. The pain that he felt in his forearm brought him back to the smell of blood, dust and sea breezes. As the war had evolved in his mind, the interaction between fantasy and the concrete became prevalent with demarcations increasingly ambiguous. He was comfortable on a battlefield because there is no way to distinguish a true dialogue from a false, a being from a mythical entity or an authentic voice from an impostor. Now in the perspective of reality, of loss, and in pain his victims appeared as real people in a world of true experience. He felt guilt, fear, loneliness, a dread of growing old, or worse, of dying badly. For the first time he deemed immortality to be unbearable.

The voice of the Erinýes grew in volume. Their demands were increasingly heard above everything, and began to occupy a greater part of Achilles’ mind until they smothered more reasonable voices in the distance. He felt himself relentlessly moving toward self-destruction. To the assembly, however, none of this was apparent. The son of Peleus stood, his face carved of the coldest stone, and stared through them as if they were a morning mist.

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