Achilles and his gold?

  • In the song "Something Just Like This," by Coldplay and the Chainsmokers, there's a line that says:

    I've been reading books of old

    The legends and the myths.

    Achilles and his gold,

    Hercules and his gifts.

    I recall Achilles being associated with martial prowess and his famous heel, not gold. What does the song refer to?

    My best guess would be that the gold refers to the riches Achilles got from fighting - he, as did the other fighters, got a share of the spoils from war. Achilles got a larger portion, both because of a fight between Agamemnon and himself, and because he was one of the best fighters. From there, gold was used because it fits both the rhythm better, and probably because it draws more attention to his ability - the song is about superheroes, not unfortunate ways to die.

    It would make more sense if the lyrics said Midas and his gold.

    Goodness, a gold badge already.

  • One of Achilles’ best known and most important connections with gold is that he rejects the treasure, including ten talents of gold (δέκα δὲ χρυσοῖο τάλαντα, Iliad 9.122 & 9.264), that is offered by Agamemnon as an inducement to rejoin the war effort. For he is in receipt of divine intelligence (from his mother Thetis, 9.410–416) that if he continues to fight at Troy he will die young, and his reward is to be immortal fame.

    Provision for immortal fame involves, first, recognition from his peers, in the form of treasure-gifts, including spear-prize women, awarded by the army collectively (1.162) in recognition of meritorious service on the raids that bring in the treasure. After that, and in some measure depending on such signal honors, the hero can become a personage in heroic epic, which lasts forever. Agamemnon’s insulting and autocratic revocation of the army’s award of the woman has in effect broken the mechanism by which Achilles can hope for immortal fame. And as he himself points out, treasure itself cannot equally well be worth dying for, and cannot undo death:

    Of possessions
    cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting,
    and tripods can be won, and the tawny high heads of horses,
    but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted
    nor captured again by force, once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier. (9.406–409, Lattimore trans.)

    Another connection is the famous armor, particularly the shield, created for Achilles by Hephaestus at Iliad 18.478–607. Materials for the shield include bronze, tin, and silver as well, but the figuration or blazonry that dominates the passage prominently features gold.

    The association of Hercules with gifts also raises questions. The song elsewhere uses gifts in the sense of talents (in the modern sense of extraordinary god-given abilities, not as weight or mass unit), and presumably is using it in that sense also in relation to Hercules—who is not so much known for gifts, in the sense of presents, as (say) the Magi of Christian myth.

    @Gibet - It's imperfect rhyme or near-rhyme. It's an old and popular poetic technique.

    I have excised the only bit of my answer that has hitherto drawn comment--on both anti-snark and New Critical principles.

    Very insightful, relating Achilles' "gold" to his choice of "undying fame". I can't say whether this was Coldplay's intention, but it strikes me as the proper understanding.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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