Polyxena’s Love Affairs

Polyxena experiences two great love affairs in this novel; one with Antiope, a chief commander of the Amazons, and the other with Achilles.  In each case she is in conflict with her emotions and succumbs unwillingly to them.  With Antiope, her reluctance is  out of bewilderment over being drawn to a same-sex partner, because she had always  previously found her love-interests to be only in men; she surrenders more easily because they have become best of friends and the step towards intimacy seemed a natural enough progression. That she is self-conscious about this gives her a more contemporary view about love.  Her affair is best summed up in her own words.

She was so alluring, her body exquisitely shaped…and I readily concede that I possessed no compunctions in my admiration of her beauty.  That was when I was with her, intoxicated by her sensuousness and overwhelmed by the attraction this held for me, yet at other times, when I was by myself and soberly reflected over this, I severely censured myself for what I considered my aberrant behavior, casting disparagements upon my abuses and feeling a sense of shame over this.  Then I would see her again, and all my self-doubting and aspersions would vanish as I once more fell under her charm.  Such was the emotional turmoil in which I endured my relationship with Antiope, and yet, were I to have a choice over its continuance, I unquestionably would have preferred that this be so.  That was the influence she exerted over me, the sheer appeal of it, pleasurable and insatiable, so that I was utterly seduced by it and in her captivity.

With Achilles, her conflict, as well as her resistance, is greatly heightened because he is Troy’s greatest foe, and any possibility of love existing between them was problematic,  sure to be condemned.  An attraction is almost immediate in their first encounter:

He was standing there, looking us over, and when his eyes met mine, they fixed on their object for an extended duration.  I thought his bluish eyes very expressive and could not turn mine away from him, as if captivated by his gaze…..He removed his helmet and let his fair hair wave freely from its confines, shaking his head.  He was, by any measure, a most handsome man, cleanly shaven, with an almost beautiful face, if such a description might be applied toward that gender.

So is Polyxena’s denial of this:

I could not believe it.  I was standing face-to-face with the man most responsible for the pain and suffering inflicted upon our family. the cruel monster, the heartless beast who had slain noble Hector and Troilus and Polydorus, a mere child, and so many of Troy’s defenders…. I glared at him, my eyes piercing him in my stunned amazement.

After spending more days with him, her anxieties increase as she finds her antipathy towards him breaking down, against all her expectation:

A myriad of emotions swept over me, not all of them well-received, for I could not accept that I was finding myself attracted to him.  No.  This cannot be.  He was the man most responsible for the misery and pain that had been cast upon my life; from my earliest childhood to the very present, my first recollection of the suffering dealt my mother and father, my grief over the deaths of my brothers, my anguish over losing Penthesileia, all my life’s misfortunes and heartaches were connected to the name of Achilles.  That is my dilemma.  The ogre in my life had only a name: Achilles.  He was never an actual person.

But now he existed for me in his true human form, as handsome as a man can ever be, strong, masculine, pleasant if he chose to be so.  Volatile.  Cruel.  Callous.  Yes, he demonstrated all this to me.  But then he also revealed sensitivity, passion, care, even tenderness.  Who was the real Achilles?  One thing was certain, he was no longer just a name.

When the realization comes to her that she has fallen in love with Achilles, she finds the prospect alarming:

Spending an entire day and then a long evening up close with Achilles had an allure of its own, a subliminal seduction in progress, and I often sensed myself unwillingly drawn to him, as if unable to resist the powerful urges dominating me.  His prevailing masculinity, vigorous and strong, inescapable and almost addictive, left me with a longing to be squeezed in his muscular arms, an embrace that would offer me the utmost sense of security from whatever threat.  He was a beautiful being, a paragon of manhood, the prototype of a living Apollo.  I hurled abuses at myself for possessing such thoughts, trying as best as I could to dispel these from my mind, rationalizing  that he was an enemy -the worst of our enemies!-  and nothing fruitful or even desirable could possibly come out of this, only to have the same notions resurging to dominate me once more.  Oh, Aphrodite, help me.  This cannot be happening.

But Aphrodite has cast her spell over them.  When Achilles tells her he is in love with her, she is thrilled:

He said it.  No more speculations about whether he did or not, no more anticipation that he might, no more wishing, wanting, and hoping.  It was true.  He did.

And when Achilles tells her of his own struggle in accepting this, she understands:

He echoed my sentiments to exactness, repeating all the dissonance I was afflicted with, but took the step I was reluctant to take: admitting it.

Yet she still is resistant to come to terms with her true feelings and tells Achilles:

“This is so difficult for me.  I am too absorbed in my worries over what all this means for us.  Were I to admit my love for you, would anything change for us?  You will still wage your battles against Troy.  I will remain Priam’s daughter.  Will our love bring an end to the war?  We know it won’t.”

Aphrodite triumphs over them and their love grows deeper.  By the time they arrive at Troy and must part, they have brought their love to full fruition and are in sorrow over their separation.  A subsequent meeting between them leads to tragic consequences.  She tries to conceal the romance from her family but when her brothers learn of it, they conjure up a scheme to ambush Achilles -they fabricate a story that Polyxena has been banished from the court because of her love for him and that he can pick her up before the city’s main gate.  He comes for her and is slain -she sees it all from the walls.

Achilles is killed before the midway point of the novel, but he is alluded to in many of the later chapters so his presence, and the love that he shared with Polyxena, is felt throughout the book.   That’s why I consider this as mainly a love story.

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