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.



Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 1.3.6

“Fools, why do you watch over your gold? Why do you wear yourselves out calculating interest and adding talents to talents when you must soon go to death with only a single coin?”


τί, ὦ μάταιοι, τὸν χρυσὸν φυλάττετε; τί δὲ τιμωρεῖσθε ἑαυτοὺς λογιζόμενοι τοὺς τόκους καὶ τάλαντα ἐπὶ ταλάντοις συντιθέντες, οὓς χρὴ ἕνα ὀβολὸν ἔχοντας ἥκειν μετ’ ὀλίγον;


Some liberties with this passage: I put “go to death” for ἥκειν because it makes more sense out of context (which is Diogenes in the underworld telling Pollux to send a message to rich men).  I also translated ἕνα ὀβολὸν as “with only a single coin” because it too would make more sense to an average reader than “having only one obol” (the point being that the only money you get to take is for the boatman Charon…)