Lucian, “Dialogues of the Dead” Achilles Whines to Antilochus


Apparently, after Odysseus leaves the underworld, Achilles has a conversation with his friend, Nestor’s son Antilochus. Antilochus is confused that Achilles spoke so disparagingly of glory in the previous day’s exchange with Odysseus. Achilles explains:


“Son of Nestor, when I was alive I wasn’t experienced in this place [Hades] and I was ignorant about which world was better, even preferring that miserable vision of glory to life. But now I know that glory is useless, even if living men endlessly praise it. Among the corpses there is equality, and neither that beauty nor strength remains, but we all wait the same under this darkness and differ from one another in no way. The Trojan dead do not fear me; the Achaian corpses are not solicitous of me. Instead, there is unsparing freedom of speech and every corpse is equal: “both base and noble man alike” [Il. 9.319] This causes me pain and I am annoyed that I don’t serve a lesser man, still alive.”


     ῏Ω παῖ Νέστορος, ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν ἄπειρος ἔτι τῶν ἐνταῦθα ὢν καὶ τὸ βέλτιον ἐκείνων ὁπότερον ἦν ἀγνοῶν τὸ δύστηνον ἐκεῖνο δοξάριον προετίμων τοῦ βίου, νῦν δὲ συνίημι ἤδη ὡς ἐκείνη μὲν ἀνωφελής, εἰ καὶ ὅτι μάλιστα οἱ ἄνω ῥαψῳδήσουσιν. μετὰ νεκρῶν δὲ ὁμοτιμία, καὶ οὔτε τὸ κάλλος ἐκεῖνο, ὦ ᾿Αντίλοχε, οὔτε ἡ ἰσχὺς πάρεστιν, ἀλλὰ κείμεθα ἅπαντες ὑπὸ τῷ αὐτῷ ζόφῳ ὅμοιοι καὶ κατ’ οὐδὲν ἀλλήλων διαφέροντες, καὶ οὔτε οἱ τῶν Τρώων νεκροὶ δεδίασίν με οὔτε οἱ τῶν ᾿Αχαιῶν θεραπεύου-σιν, ἰσηγορία δὲ ἀκριβὴς καὶ νεκρὸς ὅμοιος, “ἠμὲν κακὸς ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσθλός.” ταῦτά με ἀνιᾷ καὶ ἄχθομαι, ὅτι μὴ θητεύω ζῶν.



This may all seem a little silly, but it is actually a close—though at times absurdist—reading of Odyssey 11 and Iliad 9. It keeps going too….but Antilochus shuts Achilles down when the latter claims that his annoyance at their situation in the underworld proves his own superiority:



“No, this shows we’re better, Achilles. For we recognize that speaking is useless. It has seemed best to us to be quiet, to bear up and endure, not to become an object of ridicule like you whenever you wish for these sorts of things”


     Οὔκ, ἀλλ’ ἀμείνους, ὦ ᾿Αχιλλεῦ· τὸ γὰρ ἀνωφελὲς τοῦ λέγειν ὁρῶμεν· σιωπᾶν γὰρ καὶ φέρειν καὶ ἀνέχεσθαι δέδοκται ἡμῖν, μὴ καὶ γέλωτα ὄφλωμεν ὥσπερ σὺ τοιαῦτα εὐχόμενος.



10 thoughts on “Lucian, “Dialogues of the Dead” Achilles Whines to Antilochus

  1. Hi,
    I was watching one of the hangouts with Doug Frame where I asked the question of the significance of the mound of Achilles -Patroklos joined in the golden amphora of Dionysus, and the bones of Antilochus is added, so that the three share the same mound. I think this is unusual, in that although Antilochus is a son of Nestor, he is not on the same social/power status of Achilles and his twin Patroklos. At that time, I was not thinking (3), just thought it was an unusual combo. Wasn’t that intrigued about Memnon connection, till I did the Golden Scale of Zeus (Judgment of Zeus). I posted this part at hr 24 BD just a couple of weeks ago on Hr.24, and was surprised Greg Nagy was quite interested in the role of Memnon.

    1. It was during his last office hour video for HR24, and I had made my reply post to another participant on HR24 thread.

      1. My friend and fellow participant at out previous DB sent me the information that when Memnon was killed, his mother carried him in her arms. He said he later argued that was the image of Madonna carrying the deceased body of Christ. I cannot give you references because they are not mine to post here.

        Quite a few other follow up on this topic, but my posts are already so long. Thank you and maybe another day I would like to post further if you are interested.

  2. in his attempt to save his father, Antilochus is killed by Memnon who is the mirror image of Achilles (having a demi-god status, dear to the gods and have the goddesses as mothers). So, they have the equal status, and my friend participant (also with an username Memnon) shared with me how it was the duel of the equals, fought while their goddess mothers looked on. When Antilochus is killed by Memnon, it is Nestor who begs Achilles to avenge his death. So, in some ways Antilochus plays a parallel role to Patroklos whose death brings Achilles back to fight. Antilochus is “sacrificed” so that it would set a stage for the Achilles-Memnon duel (vase paintings), and weighing of the souls of each hero (fragments of Aeschylus.
    I tried to discuss him more in connection with Zues’s Golden Scale. Zeus in the Iliad seems to be weighing “doom” or something equivalent-but the passages are very interesting. In Aeschylus’s fragment, Hermes? seems to be weighing their “souls”–perhaps suggestion the ancient Greeks views evolving from something strictly external, such as Fate, to something more internal. A very interesting transition I would like to follow up on when I get the chance.
    On Keres from
    The Weighing of souls (psychostasia)

  3. The comment in wiki about Aeschylus’s lost trilogy, and Plutarch’s comment apparently are referring to the below.
    The trilogy consisted of The Memnôn, Psychostasia, The Weighing of Souls (the order is disputed), and a third play unknown, but probably dealing with the death of Achilles. In the Psychostasia Zeus was represented as holding aloft the balance, in the scales of which were the souls of Achilles and Memnon, while beneath each stood Thetis and Eos, praying each for the life of her son. Comparing the passage in the Iliad (X 210), in which Zeus weighs the fates of Achilles and Hector, Plutarch (How a Young Man ought to hear Poems 2. p. 17A) says that Aeschylus accommodated a whole play to this fable. Fragments 155, 161, 181, 183 have been referred to the Memnon.
    So, to sum up the most important question for me for now is the question of why these (3) warriors end up sharing the same mound, Achilles and Patroklos together in a golden amphore given to Thetis by Dionysus and Antilochus presumably in an urn of his own.

    It is interesting to me because Nestor plays a significant role in Patroklos’s death, and his begging Achilles to slay Memnon to avenge his son’s death leads to death of Memnon, which foreshadows Achilles’s death. The bones are very important to the kins of the deceased, so I would have thought it would make more sense for Nestor to bring his son’s bones back to Pylos. So, why was he buried there, and in the mound of Achilles and Patroklos?

    Needless to say I am trying to follow up on PIE/PE of cattle raid and have just read Celtic myth The Táin, with Richard Martin. So, I was intrigued to learn the Queen’s name was “mead”!

    I am sorry this post is long… It would be fine if this post is rejected.
    I could not find a suitable vase image that is copyright free, but I do have flicker page.

    Here’s an interesting article on the Golden Scale of Zeus.
    Judgement of Zeus by B. C. Dietrich Rhodes University B. C. Dietrich Grahamstown, South Africa Rhein. Mw. f. Philol. N. F. CVII

  4. Bruce Lincoln U of chicago
    Indo European myth cattle raid, creation, etc


    I am interested in following up with his “trita” concept.

  5. “three primordial heroes, “Man,” “Twin,” and “Third,” each of whom
    served as the mythic model for a different social group” and wondered if Achilles, Patroklos and Antilochus applied to this.(3)

  6. Doing follow up on other words, too, such as “barley”, etc. As you know the language is not my strength so will take some time. and recipes.


    The Old English word for ‘barley’ was bære, which traces back to Proto-Indo-European and is cognate to the Latin word farina “flour”. The direct ancestor of modern English “barley” in Old English was the derived adjective bærlic, meaning “of barley”.[4] The first citation of the form bærlic in the Oxford English Dictionary dates to around 966 CE, in the compound word bærlic-croft.[5] The underived word bære survives in the north of Scotland as bere, and refers to a specific strain of six-row barley grown there.[6] The word barn, which originally meant “barley-house”, is also rooted in these words.[4]

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