Linda’s prompt: “heal/heel”
In some ways, the Greek hero Achilles reminds me of Princess Aurora in the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”: both Achilles and Aurora had been endowed with special gifts, but both also had an unusual point of vulnerability.
Aurora’s parents had angered the fairy Maleficent by not inviting her to Aurora’s christening, where many other blessings were showered upon the tiny princess. When Maleficent arrived, she doomed Aurora to death by pricking her finger upon a spindle. Fortunately for Aurora and her parents, not all the fairies had given their blessings, so a kind fairy was able to commute the sentence of “death” to a long, long sleep from which Aurora could be awakened only by true love’s kiss. For Aurora, beautiful and kind and gifted, her vulnerability to the spindle haunted her childhood years, causing her to be raised apart from her parents in hopes of preventing the foretold doom. Her story does end happily, at any rate, and has been told over and over.
Two years ago, my daughter’s ballet studio performed “Sleeping Beauty,” with its wonderful score by Tchaikovsky. The ballet has some strange quirks, such as the final wedding scene. After Aurora has been roused from her sleep by the prince’s kiss, other storybook characters, such as Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots, perform at the feast — because, after all, the point of a ballet is to give dancers an opportunity to dance, is it not?
“Sleeping Beauty” was one of my children’s favorite Disney movies: we owned it on VHS, at a time when we didn’t have very many movies. They enjoyed watching Aurora dance with a mock prince constructed by Aurora’s animal friends from the cloak and hat of the actual prince, who is somewhere in the woods. They also used to watch the special feature on the making of “Sleeping Beauty,” the artwork of which has a very stylized look. Prince Philip had more personality than either Snow White’s or Cinderella’s beaus, and my middle son went through a phase in which he attacked the rhododendrons in front of our house, in imitation of Prince Philip hacking his way through the thorns. Good memories. . .
But Achilles’ vulnerability was not resolved so happily, if I remember my Greek mythology well. His mother, Thetis, was a sea-nymph who, like Aurora’s parents, attempted to spare her son from prophesied doom. It had been foretold that Achilles would die young, so Thetis dipped him in the River Styx, which flowed through the underworld. Alas, she held the child by his heel as she immersed him in the waters, which were supposed to provide him with invulnerability. Years later, his vulnerable heel is struck by an arrow during the Greek onslaught against Troy.
Despite his famed prowess in battle, Achilles has never been a particular favorite of mine. There is some trouble about a girl whom Achilles had “won” as war plunder; after Agamemnon has to give up the girl that HE claimed as his war prize, he takes Achilles’ girl. Achilles refuses to fight for a while; he is also upset about the death of his best friend. In the end, he does die from the wound to his heel — hence the term “Achilles’ heel” has come to mean a seemingly minor but ultimately deadly flaw in a person of apparent strength.
Skimming through an account of Achilles’ part in the Trojan War, I was struck by the fact that he appeared to have other flaws aside from his heel: he has always seemed sort of sulky to me, to tell you the truth. He is so angry with Agamemnon that he prays for the gods to help Troy gain ground, so that he, Achilles, can once again gain honor? This sounds like self-aggrandizement to me. While perhaps the heel was his only physical vulnerability, Achilles definitely had some character flaws.
I’m not sure whether it is Achilles with his singular point of weakness that gave rise to the literary device of endowing a hero with a fatal flaw? While such a concept makes a good story — the hero would get along just fine, were it not for this one limiting trait — it does not seem true to life. Would that I had an Achilles’ heel, and only one Achilles’ heel! I am fond of saying that disorganization is my Achilles’ heel, but, in fact, I have a score of “fatal flaws” — an entire Pandora’s box of them, to continue in the mythological vein. I can’t think that it would make pleasant reading if I enumerated them all here, but a tendency to self-analyze too often is surely one of them! Oh, for a good fairy, to save me from my besetting sins.
This is where the other meaning of “heal” swoops in to my rescue — literally. As one who trusts in Christ’s atonement, I theoretically should be able to stop fretting over my failings. Christ has “ris’n with healing in His wings, ” in the words of the Christmas carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!”
That doesn’t mean I’m not as self-centered as Achilles on a daily basis, because I am. I could probably give Achilles a run for his money — not on a field of battle but possibly where holding a grudge is concerned. But there is an unseen power that gives me strength on days when I can’t seem to get it right. The healing is ongoing, and often I feel that I’m regressing. But it beats trusting in my own strength: Achilles’ vaunted physique failed him, in all versions of the story.