The Hands of Achilles: Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.11-16

“Chiron made Achilles expert at the cithara, and molded his fierce spirit with a gentle art. He who so often terrified his companions, so often terrified his enemies, is thought to have feared an aged old man. Those hands, which Hector would one day feel, he offered up to be flogged when his teacher so demanded.”

Phillyrides puerum cithara perfecit Achillem

atque animos placida contudit arte feros.

qui totiens socios, totiens exterruit hostes

creditur annosum pertimuisse senem;

quas Hector sensurus erat, poscente magistro

verberibus iussas praebuit ille manus.

NOTE: I am conscious of the serious deficiency of this translation; I doubt very much that the effect of quas sensurus erat could be adequately captured in English. I had not read this poem for some time, and in coming back to it, I was reminded of the consummate artistry of Ovid, who really excels at rendering grand emotional effects through very specific particularization; in this case, by focusing on the hands of Achilles and their history.

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