Prophecy of Achilles by H.M. Roberts

The ancient Greek Myths have enduring appeal and it is fair to say that this is present in HM Roberts’ poem Prophecy of Achilles. Told through various viewpoints, the story of Achilles from birth to death is related in the form of accessible verses, some of them quite brief, that focus on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, reflecting on their actions for the most part. It is a modern take on a classic form, paring the legend down to its bones but still maintaining its solid core.

From Thetis and Peleus, his parents, to Patroclus, his lover and friend and Chiron, his mentor through to Hector himself, these main characters assist in the telling of Achilles’ story and run along side the monologue of the hero himself. The book starts well in establishing Thetis as a protective mother, keen to ensure Achilles’ longevity and the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and what Patroclus’ arrival offers Achilles, I think, is well developed. The intensity of feeling that the two have for each other is related well, finding the balance between companionship and passion.

HM Roberts provides some background to Achilles’ story throughout to assist those of us not overly familiar with the myth and this helps to frame the story. There is no bogging down here in battle detail or strategy and there are parts of the myth that are not included. However, I don’t think that this work pretends to be an all encompassing rehash of Achilles’ legend: it is the prophecy from its title that is the focus as well as HM Roberts digging into the loss and the spirit of Achilles, the drive and motive that he gained to perform as he did. As a result, the poetry centres on the internal monologue of the characters and mostly, Achilles following his development and leading up to the Trojan War and, ultimately culminating in Achilles’ famed battle with Hector.

I think that there is merit in this work for many reasons: it was enjoyable to read; it is light in structure but there is depth here, emotion and knowledge; as an introduction to Greek Myths, it provides a solid starting point. I loved the first part of the book very much but have to admit that I felt it lost its intensity for me towards the end even though it strived to convey it.

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