Achilles: A love story, by Byrne Fone
Of gods and humans, highly recommended
Story blurb: The story of the war at Troy, as Homer wrote it in the Iliad and as I re-imagine it in Achilles: A Love Story tells of a violent clash of cultures that remains for us even now a dreadful exemplar of the horrors of war and the folly of those who engage in it. But as the ancients all knew, the story of the war at Troy was also a tale of love between men-of the devotion of Achilles, unrivalled hero, terrible warrior, and so it is said in legend, the most beautiful man in the world, to another great warrior, the handsome Patroclus. Their names resound in the catalogue both of heroes and of lovers; their story remains one of the greatest, most emblematic, and earliest gay love stories ever told. In the Iliad Homer also tantalizingly hints at another love story, the love of Antilochus, son of King Nestor and Prince of Pylos, for Achilles. In Achilles: A Love Story I tell the story of Antilochus and Achilles through Antilochus’ point of view and in his first person voice, fleshing out what Homer only hints at and inventing what he does not, as it plays out against the background of the last year of the Trojan war. Achilles: A Love Story creates the story of Antilochus and Achilles, and one both epic and tragic, that has been told, so far as I know by no other writer.
About the author: In the 1970s Byrne Fone, PhD, began working in the new field of Gay Studies. At the City University of New York he introduced one of the earliest university courses in the field, in which he is a recognized pioneer, in the United States, and later taught Gay Studies at the University of Paris and at the CUNY Graduate School. His work in the field includes the largest and most comprehensive anthology of gay literature, The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, as well as a study of early English and American gay literary history in A Road to Stonewall: Homosexuality and Homophobia in British and American Literature (Scribners). His book on Walt Whitman, Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text (S. Illinois University Press), explores both the poet’s homosexuality and how it is manifest in his poetry. His most recent study in the field is Homophobia: A History ( Holt and Picador) which examines the history of homophobia over a period covering almost two millennia. In addition to this scholarship, Fone’s interest in architectural history led him to write Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, which is the first full-length history of the City of Hudson.
Review by Gerry Burnie
I greatly enjoy the romantic stories of legendary Greek heroes, especially if they do not shy away or gloss over the practice of pederastric love between men. Supported by both historical fact and legend, the reality is that such liaisons were encouraged as a means of schooling younger men (the “eromenos”), and bonding warriors together; first in bed and then on the battlefield—for example, The Sacred Band of Thebes. To his credit, Byrne Fone does not shy away from this topic. In fact, “Achilles: A love story” [CreateSpace, 2010] is an unapologetic celebration of male love and valour.
The story follows Homer’s poetic version of ‘The Fall of Troy’ (the Illiad), but for the semblance of detail Fone has created a fictional chronicler, Dionysos of Tenedos. It is a clever device that effectively fills-in the gaps in Homer’s overview.
Another clever device is his decision to narrate the story in the first-person voice of Antilochus, son of King Nestor of Pylos [See the excavation of his palace at right]. In Homer’s Illiad Antilochus has the unenviable task of informing Achilles of Patroclus’ death, and after his death Antilochus was the closest to Achilles. “Indeed,” as Fone notes, “the reliance becomes more intimate, for Homer says that Antilochus’ ashes were interred in the great tomb on the Trojan Shore along with those of Achilles and Patroclus. Thereafter, as Homer notes in the Odyssey, the three friends are reunited in the underworld and walk together in the eternal fields.”
Quite apart from Homer’s ageless epic, however, Professor Fone has done a masterful job of fleshing out his characters in all their heroic proportions, as well as their human weaknesses. Agememnon, for example, has been lionized as a king among kings for centuries, and yet his character is far more believable as the self-promoting, glory-seeker by which Fone has depicted him.
Similarly, the legendary Achilles may have been physically invulnerable—except for his ‘Achilles’ heel’—but emotionally he is described as being quite prone to petulance, uncontrollable rages and fathomless love. In other words he is only half divine, as Fone has realistically made him out to be.
So, if you are a devotee of history, fiction, romance, and a darned good read, I highly recommend “Achilles: A love story” as the fulfilment of them all. Five stars.
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