Today’s edition of the Greek newspaper Pireaus Chronographos breaks a major story that should shock anyone who has ever used the phrase “Achilles heel.” Reprinted by permission.
A Scottish researcher’s stunning new book about the myth of the Greek warrior Achilles has rocked the world of antiquities studies.
The researcher, Leathan Ray Aibne, is a professor who teaches Greek and Roman language at the University of the West of Scotland’s East Campus. His book, How the Realization of Indeterminacy Displaces the Fiction of Narrative Sequence in the Achilles Myth, contains two controversial ideas.
The first concerns the Western pronunciation of the mighty warrior’s name. Professor Aibne’s book claims we have been pronouncing “Achilles” wrong for centuries.
“My studies prove his name should be pronounced ‘ATCH-uh-lease,’” Professor Aibne said in an exclusive interview with the Chronographos. “When mythology experts have studied the original Greek as it was spoken at the time of the Trojan War, they have historically overlooked the fact that the combination of the Greek letters that form the C and H in Achilles’s name were spoken as affricates and not as glottal stops followed by aspiration.”
Second, and even more revolutionary, is the professor’s claim about the fatal weakness called the “Achilles heel.” When Achilles was born, his mother tried to make him invincible by dipping him into the Styx River. As the myth has it, she held him by the heel as she dipped him, so his heel didn’t get wet, leaving him vulnerable there.
“Think about it,” Professor Aibne said. “To dip a baby into a river, you’d have to hold him not by the heel, but by the ankle. His heel would not be the last part of his foot to be dipped into the water. It would be the first. The last part of his foot to be dipped into the water—or, in his case, not dipped into the water—would be the big toe.
“A misreading of the myth tells us Paris killed Achilles by shooting his heel with an arrow,” Professor Aibne continued. “Correctly, we should not be referring to the ‘Achilles heel.’ Instead, the term should be the ‘Achilles hallux’ (big toe).”
Professor Aibne, aged 82, has long been a credible figure in the field. He has been studying the Greek language ever since he was aged 4, accompanying his mum, who was popping into a chemist adjacent to Scotland’s oldest library, The Library of Innerpeffray, where she had spent an afternoon studying books about landing gear on RAF fighter planes from the Second World War. To keep the lad quiet while she waited to pick up a plaster, she gave him a colouring book of mythological heroes.
Predictably, the response among scholars to the professor’s claims has been vigorous, but mixed.
The yearly Greek mythology journal Είναι όλα τα ελληνικά σε σας, πάρα πολύ gushed, “Δύο μπράβο!”, while the scholarly website Αχιλλέας δεν λαμβάνουν κανένα χάος enthused, “Εύκολα ο πρωτοπόρος για το φετινό Χρυσό Toga!”
However, the respected journal Αυτό είναι όλα λαξευμένη σε πέτρα, αν δεν είναι γραμμένο σε περγαμηνή responded: “Δεν ξέρουμε τι Aibne κάπνιζε όταν έγραψε το βιβλίο του. Κατά πάσα πιθανότητα ήταν χασίς.”
Professor Aibne says the misconceptions ultimately can be traced to a scribe’s errors in the Bibliotheca, a manuscript about Greek mythology that dates back to the time of Photios I of Constantinople. Archivists at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, where the Bibliotheca manuscript is stored, are considering ways to correct the error on the original manuscript itself. “Une gomme a été écartée en raison de la délicatesse de le manuscrit,” a museum official said.
She declined to make further comment at the request of the sole surviving descendant of Achilles, a Mr. Atwater Brooke Eaton-Rhett, who lives in Bath. He could not be reached by the Chronographos.
The professor’s book was printed by the publisher Παλιά, παλιές ιστορίες που πραγματικά δεν καταλαβαίνουν ή δεν θυμούνται.