20 The Trials of Thetis

by Philip Duchild


One could argue that the Iliad centers around the choices of Achilles. He is a conduit of rage for gods and mortals alike, escalating a series of events that form the framework of what many consider to be an archetypal depiction of war. However, just as an examination of Achilles might help interrogate notions of fate, love, and loss, his actions are by no means the sole way to find meaning from the sea of bodies produced in this conflict. A relationship of incredible nuance and emotional depth, between Thetis and her son, for instance, might be examined as a means of pondering the experience of motherhood and power struggles.

furthering the given narrative

As far as the Iliad depicts her, Thetis is primarily devoted to her son, Achilles. She consoles him, entreats Zeus to turn the fate of the war in his favor, and asks Hephaestus to craft him an incredible set of armor for protection. However, her true motivations and desires are neither revealed nor alluded to at any point in the text. How does she feel about sending her son off to a war in which he will die? How will the outcome of the war and her son’s choices influence her standing among the other gods? How does she assert her power as a female-identified figure? How does her son’s legacy serve her?

Answering these questions necessitates forming a clear interpretation of the Iliad within a modern context. In this instance, the historical accuracy of the counternarrative would not matter; for many, the significance of the Iliad lies not in the efforts of Schliemann and his successors, but instead lies in the relationships between characters and the unique glimpses of the human experience that each one has the potential to offer.

creating a unique counternarrative

In order to create a narrative that addresses ideas surrounding not only Thetis but also the historical context of the Iliad, my vision entails creating an entire art exhibit focused on the many stories to be created from her unique identity. The exhibit would be staged to mimic an exhibit that one may find at the Getty Villa. However, this exhibit would deliberately exploit the typical display of artifacts. Glass cases would house “artifacts” designed by a wide variety of artists, specifically artists who self-identify with any particular aspect of Thetis’s identity. Plaques under each piece would have a short description of the “artifact” written by the corresponding artist. These plaques would describe the object and its historical significance in the same way that plaques in a conventional museum would. They would present the artist’s interpretation of Thetis through creating a connection (assumed to be objective, as in an “ordinary” museum exhibit) between the artifact, myth, history, and their lived experiences.

The exhibit would elevate the idea of creating a written or oral counternarrative to a new level. It would not only display multiple narratives of Thetis’s experience to the public, but it would do so in a fashion that appears to be concrete and factual. Visitors would leave with both a new understanding of the implications of Thetis’s choices in the Iliad as well as an experience in which the delineation between history and mythology becomes blurred.


Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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