Rage (Greek = Menin) is the opening word of Homer’s epic “The Iliad”. Whose rage? Answer; Achilles. And why is he mad? And what are it’s causes and what does all this have to do with being bi anyways? Achilles is upset that his prized possession (chattel) the slave-girl Briseis is taken away from him by the Lord-King Agamemnon in the opening book of the poem. He fought hard to win her (and other war booty) and now she is snapped up by his overlord, whom he despises. The insult heaped on Achilles by Agamemnon is complex, but one undeniable (I think) aspect is that a woman whom he loves, feels affection for (even if she started off, more in the realm as a sex-slave) is taken away. There are other verses in the poem later in which Achilles appears to be fairly indifferent to her welfare but that has more to do with his fury at the state he finds himself in (sulking away with his comrades, by his ships while the other Greek fighters battle the Trojans). So far so good in terms of heterosexual, straight physical attraction from one man (Achilles) to another woman (Briseis).
Then what are we to make of the death of Patroclus, the very close-dear friend of Achilles much later in the poem (book 16), which sets in motion the most important action of the story. Achilles finally gets off his sulking ass and joins the battle, entering into the fray decisively. The reaction of Achilles to the death of Patroclus is one
that goes way beyond comradeship in war, friendship in battle. To me, it has all the hallmarks of one’s beloved, of a lover’s death that must be avenged come hell or high water (and in fact, Achilles does battle the river Scamander in Book 21) Different eras of history that have read the poem and interpreted Achilles’ sexuality have come across that of course he-Patroclus had a homosexual relationship (more of an ancient interpretation) whereas in times closer to our own, Achilles was thought of as a great romantic (heterosexual) masculine warrior-hero-lover figure.
Instead of an ‘either-or’ binary, monosexual reading of the text, I prefer to see a ‘both-and’ with Achilles.
When Achilles mother, the goddess Thetis comes to console Achilles (book 18?) her counsel as interpreted by some commentators is that it is time for Achilles to grow up, put away his homosexual dalliance with Patroclus and settle down with a woman and become a responsible citizen if you will. She cuts immediately to the chase instructing him that “It is good to lie with a woman.” I doubt very many mothers have ever counseled their son that way.
Yes I know that the very concept of homosexuality was unknown in the ancient world, that sexuality was more about power-social relations when it was of a same-sex nature. About who was in the dominant position, who was being penetrated etc. What I am more trying to elucidate is the more than one gender attraction that Achilles clearly demonstrates throughout the poem. Achilles being dissed (to be all modern about it) certainly plays a major role in his actions, his rage but I think an important agent that is present also, is his love-feelings-attractions be they physical-romantic-emotional he feels for Briseis-Patroclus.