Ancient Athenian Drama
5th century BC, Ancient Greek. Athens
And you will leave the ocean to visit Achilles, our dear dead son, where he now lives, settled on the island of Leuce near the northern shores of the Black Sea.
There have been, I have detected, one or two moments previously when this vast audience have shuffled a little nervously. I did myself, when the chorus sang of the divine instruction that Apollo gave to Orestes to kill his own mother. 'O Apollo,' they sang, 'how can I believe this of you?' And later, when a messenger brought news that Neoptolemus had been murdered by the malice of this god, he says: 'This is how Apollo, the guide to right and wrong, holds a lasting grudge as though he was like an evil man! How then can he be wise?'
Now, in the closing moments of this play, the audience are shuffling nervously again. Thetis is speaking. The sea goddess Thetis. She was once married to Achilles’ father Peleus and is the mother of Achilles; Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan war whose tomb lies on the straits opposite the city of Troy where he fell during the final days of assault upon that city; Achilles, to whom Polyxena, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, was sacrificed as an offering to the dead, as the victorious Greek army made ready to sail for home.
Thetis tells Peleus: 'Take the shattered remains of your grandson Neoptolemus back to the oracle of Apollo and bury it there, a reproach to that god. And you, when you die, will become a deity as I am and live with me, a god and goddess together; and you will leave the ocean to visit Achilles, our dear son, where he now lives, settled on the island of Leuce near the northern shores of the Black Sea.'
Is this the moment I have been warned to listen out for? And wait! There is even more! 'When death draws near,' she is saying, 'wait for me in a cave. I will approach you from the sea and there will be fifty maidens with me to take you to my home beneath the waves.'