Tag Archives: epic

“Achilleus is pist.”

This statement antedates spellcheck, or at least the spellcheck feature that underlines dubious words. The writer is clearly oblivious not only to his spelling error but also to his error of diction, or tone.

With great energy, simplicity, and confidence, my student is writing about The Iliad, that stately epic poem about war, glory, and loss. Together with The Odyssey, it defines the epic—not only its form and subject but also its stature. Heroic, that’s what an epic is supposed to be, in every dimension.

So my student reads about the rage of Achilleus that follows on Agamemnon’s autocratic and self-centered distribution of the spoils of war—and of Achilleus’ “prize” woman in particular. This anger is so great that despite his hunger for glory in battle, and despite his supposed loyalty to the Greek confederation that has come to Troy to take back Helen, the kidnapped wife of Menelaus, Achilleus sits stubborn in his tent and refuses to join the battle even when the tide turns against the Greeks and everyone pleads with him.

Admirers of Achilleus and those sympathetic with his need for respect would say he’s in high dudgeon, or in a towering rage. Those readers who prefer Hektor’s brand of heroism (of which I am one) would say Achilleus is throwing an heroic temper tantrum, or having a big sulk.

My student makes a different choice. Is it some perverse delicacy of mind that keeps him from spelling out “pissed,” or does he think there are two different words depending on whether there is urine involved or only spleen—or does he actually think that’s how the (single) word is spelled?

At any rate, even “royally pissed” would have more dignity than my student has allowed this “hero”: he has managed to trivialize Achilleus, or infantilize him, or unclass him, in a single stroke. All that might be epic is piddled away.

Next time you’re feeling pissed, picture my student’s word. Tell yourself you’re pist. It will probably tickle you so that you cheer right up.

On this amphora, posted at http://www.miscellanies.org/eng3993/weeknine/bookone.html, you can see the pist Achilleus at center, next to the hanging helmet.