The All-Thing

All carrot and no stick, since ought-three.

書湖陰先生壁 (王安石)


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Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Achilles's other name

What song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture.

— Sir Thomas Browne, Dedication to Urn-Burial (referring to the questions of Emperor Tiberius to his professors of Greek literature)

My friend posed the question about Achilles to her classics-educated sister, after having heard me recite the above quote thrice in a single day, and she said, 'Pyrrha':

The name Pyrrha is most likely derived from Pausanius' account of Achilles hiding, where he refers to a son that Achilles had with Deidamia as Pyrrhus. The name Pyrrha was the feminine version of the son's name and there is a general trend in ancient literature to use the feminine or masculine version of a name belonging to a son, mother, friend, etc. when the actual name of their associate is not mentioned or known. (Note that the son is also referred to by several other names, depending on who you read, so even the name Pyrrhus is spurious.)

From Pausanius:

"When Achilles was nine years old, Calchas declared that Troy could not be taken without him; so Thetis, foreseeing that it was fated he should perish if he went to the war, disguised him in female garb and entrusted him as a maiden to Lycomedes. Bred at his court, Achilles had an intrigue with Deidamia, daughter of Lycomedes, and a son Pyrrhus was born to him, who was afterwards called Neoptolemus. But the secret of Achilles was betrayed, and Ulysses, seeking him at the court of Lycomedes, discovered him by the blast of a trumpet. And in that way Achilles went to Troy."

Other versions of the story of Achilles hiding are told in Apollodorus 3.13.8, Ovid Metamorphoses XIII 162, and Statius Achilles i 247.

A contact of hers referred us to Hyginus' Fabula 96, kindly translating the Latin for us:

"Thetis, the Nereid, since she knew that her son Achilles, whom she had by Peleus, if he went to sack Troy, would die, delivered him to the island Skyros, to King Lycomedes, whom he (Achilles) served in feminine garb among his unmarried daughters, with his name having been changed; for the maidens called him Pyrrha, since he had sandy-colored hair and in Greek, red head (or blonde) is 'pyrrhon'."


There is also a reference to Sidonius Apollonaris (Carmen 9.138), but I couldn't find a text of that in short order, so I gave up. Either way, both of these sources are fairly late Roman so the name Pyrrha is not classical.

So there you have it. A great mystery resolved.

Posted at 13:53 | /lit/myth | (leave a comment) | permalink


The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power. -- William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"