This ink drawing is a [poor] copy after a drawing by Rembrandt in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, dated around 1640. It shows the scene in which Thetis urges her son Achilles to re-join the battle against Troy.
Achilles is standing on the far left holding a sword, with his face turned to his mother. The famous warrior is shown grieving the death of his close friend Patroclus who had been killed by Hector, whilst wearing Achilles armour. Thetis has just returned to Achilles with new armour, including a shield, breastplate, helmet and greaves, forged by Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods. They are seen on the lower right of the canvas. Finding him still inconsolable, she urges Achilles to return to the fighting. She promised that she would ensure the body of Patroclus will not rot away by placing ambrosia and nectar in his nose while Achilles is away. Achilles finally agrees to return to the battlefield to avenge Patroclus’ death.
Achilles’ reaction to the death of Patroclus has led many to interpret their relationship as being greater than close friends. Though both men had relationships with women, the love between the two men is presented in many classical texts as outstripping these affairs. Many ancient texts penned in the 4th and 5th centuries, including Plato’s ‘Symposium’, present the pair explicitly as lovers. It was not unusual in Ancient Greece for men to have sexual and loving relationships with both men and women. Indeed, it was taken for granted that there was an erotic dimension to male relationships. The two warriors have more recently become symbolic of same-sex love and desire. In 2004 the writer Madeline Miller, won the Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel ‘The Song of Achilles’. It focuses on the pair’s journey as a tale of sexual awakening, where they discover their sexuality.