Last week my writing group responded to the prompt of “a part of the body.” I went back and forth, but landed on “ankle,” which made me think about Achilles. So here’s what I wrote…keep in mind I only had 30 minutes!
Have you ever heard of an “Achilles’ Heel”? It’s a reference to a point of weakness one may have, for example, “Passive-aggressive people are my Achilles’ Heel,” which means that you can deal with just about anyone, except for, say, Gandhi, or my brother. “Achilles’ Heel,” though, is kind of a misnomer, since Achilles’ mother, Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx upon his birth, in hopes of making him invincible. She had to hold onto him somehow, so she held him by the ankle. It doesn’t make any sense if she held him by the heel; see what I mean? [Reference Reubens’ work above.] I usually refer to the Achilles tendon for discussions like this, since that seems to be a far more anatomically correct reference for this tale. So Achilles’ ankle-area is a mythic representation of this idea that no matter what our strength, there is always the potential for downfall.
What many people don’t know about Achilles is that his name translates to “the grief of his people.” Now, unlike the aforementioned “heel” reference, this makes sense to me. He was great, actually the greatest of warriors, and the promise of his nation. He assured the Greeks military dominance. And then, he was killed, not by a mightier warrior but by some pissant named Paris, who started the whole Trojan War in the first place and then killed the hero Achilles in the most cowardly of ways. Paris hit Achilles right in his weakest point. Some say Apollo guided the arrow and some say Paris was just lucky. But it really doesn’t matter, because this myth is like so many of our cultural myths (think Titanic) that warn us of hubris, or not considering possible outcomes other than success.
And that, is the grief of a people, or the sadness of a nation. Or an individual. We cannot ever be assured of our triumph. However, if we truly follow Achilles’ example, we also should know that the noble thing to do is try, because the chances of success are excellent if we think we are invincible.
Which brings me to my own ankles. I have weak ankles…I’ve been told this many times by many doctors. I try to strengthen them, but it never completely works, because I’m not committed enough. So my ankles are literally my Achilles’ Ankle. And it kind of works that way metaphorically, too, since I’m often swaggering around in fashionable shoes or rocking the treadmill when my ankles give out and remind me of this particular shortcoming, literally by twisting my ankle and metaphorically by taking me down a notch. Does this weakness mean I don’t try to spiff up a bit and dare to wear those wedges? Certainly not. Does it mean I have an excuse not to get on the treadmill to improve my cardiovascular and muscular health? Yes, but it shouldn’t. Anyway, here’s a wish that I send out today: May our weaknesses never prevent us from attempting greatness, and may our shortcomings never cause others shame.