Richard Armitage and Achilles – tRAgic lovers

There are a multitude of stories about the Greek hero Achilles…Homer’s epic poem The Iliad , focuses on Achilles’ rage at being thwarted by the expedition commander Agamemnon.  Achilles’ reputation was that of the greatest of the Greek warriors assembled before the walls of Troy but I don’t want to talk about Achilles the warrior today.   I’ve been thumbing through images of Achilles lately an came across one that refers to one of the few “romantic” stories in his mythology.

This part of Achilles’ story is set shortly after the action of The Iliad, when Achilles  has rejoined the Greeks in battling the Trojans.  Penthesilea (Pen-theh-si-lay-uh) was the queen of the Amazons, a mythical tribe of warrior women who lived on the fringe of Greek society.   Penthesilea was crippled by grief after accidentally killing her sister in a hunting accident. (is there no end of tragedy for these mythological characters?)  She agreed to fight with the Trojans against the Greeks because it offered her the opportunity to end her misery by dying an honorable warrior’s death – a requirement of an Amazonian queen.  There are several variations of the story, but in all of them, Penthesilea and Achilles meet on the battlefield, and powerful as she is, she is no match for Achilles who deals her a fatal blow.


Penthesilea dies in Achilles arms
Cup from Vulci, around 460 BC
Munich / Germany, Antikensammlungen 2688.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One way or another, Penthesilea’s ends up in Achilles arms as she dies.  Several versions recount that their eyes meet and they fall instantly in love just as she dies.

Achilles and Penthesilea - The Look of Love Detail of image above

Achilles and Penthesilea – The Look of Love
Detail of image above

In the detailed image above we can see this moment depicted…damage to the vase obscures Achilles slightly, but one can still make out the connected gaze between the two figures as Achilles drives his sword home just below Penthesilea’s chin.  This is among my top ten most evocative moments in Greek myth and it is incredibly similar to a scene between Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne and Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian in Robin Hood – the infamous death scene of course.

Death of Marian Robin Hood S2.12 Screen Cap courtesy of

Death of Marian
Robin Hood S2.12
Screen Cap courtesy of

Only seconds after he’s stabbed her, Guy supports Marian’s dying weight as she looks up and their eyes meet.  According to Robin Hood’s writers the emotion of the scene is vastly different, at least from Marian’s point of view, but the composition is eerily similar.

Richard Armitage is famously quiet regarding his personal life, (which is fine by me) but I don’t think I’m speculating too wildly to suppose that he couldn’t possibly be as tRAgic in love as either Achilles or Guy… especially since ending love affairs at sword point is highly frowned upon these days.  Here’s hoping for a much less classical ending for him in real life!

14 comments on “Richard Armitage and Achilles – tRAgic lovers

  1. We certainly hope not, at least. Beautiful post. I always loved the story of Achilles and Penthesilea, especially as a mawkish pre-teen. I was emo before emo was emo, or something like that. lol

    • obscura says:

      I think it’s safe to say he hasn’t been skewering people with his Orcrist, so already he’s doing better that Achilles and Guy :). Well, that’s better than being emu, emu, emu I suppose… 😉

  2. katie70 says:

    I think that I am going to have to do some rereading of Greek Mythology. I remember some of it but not all.

    My boys didn’t like the killing of Marian by Guy. I thought for sure that they where done watching it, only to be right there to watch the last series.

    • obscura says:

      I have to double check the details all the time…there’s just so much, and there’s often a lot of versions of the same myth.

      The whole thing was very strange…it felt like it was done purely for shock value to me.

  3. guylty says:

    Wow, what an interesting story. There is no better tear jerker than tragedy, well, obviously. I had no idea how well the Guy-Marian story matches the Achilles Penthesillea myth. Ok yeah, overlooking Marian’s POV for the moment. But, oh, what tragedy, to be killing the one you love. I get goosebumps, just thinking about it.
    The more I hear about the ancient myths, the more intrigued I become, Obscura. There is, I have to say, an element of the soap opera in them. Those “great” human emotions, the extreme tragedies and extraordinary heights of human existance. So far I have always shied away from reading the myths (although I forced myself through the “Iliad” as a teenager). Can you recommend an accessible anthology that is good to read? Incidentally, my daughter is big into the ancient myths (on the back of Percy Jackson, of course… she’s a fantasy nerdette. At least I was able to steer her into the Tolkien universe, too.), so this sounds like something we could bond over. Ahem, that is if the myths are PG *coughs*.

    • obscura says:

      Achilles recovers a whole lot quicker than Guy does, but he’s not burdened with Christian ideals of true love either…his love was perfect by Greek standards…said and done before it had a chance to become destructive – to him especially.

      Or are there elements of Greek tragedy in soap operas ;). I admit to being heartily disappointed the first time around with myth in that there is not a happy ending to be found….the Greeks really liked to play on pathos, but they were definitely not big on fairy tale style romance… “Once upon a time there was a princess —– fill in the blank —– everybody dies” is the usual formula.

      The old standby myth anthology after Bulfinch is Edith Hamilton, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes , which gives a kind of chronological and topical framework to the myths themselves. There is also a more recent anthology of original sources in translation arranged by author (good reviews, but I haven’t seen it myself) Anthology Of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation : with Additional Translations by Other Scholars and an Appendix on Linear B sources by Thomas G. Palaima

      My son shows no interest in classical myth really, but he is into Welsh and Norse myth (gets cranky when I can’t answer his questions on those) in lieu of fantasy video games. I think most translations of myth are sufficiently G-rated, but you can of course, read between the lines 😉

      • guylty says:

        Thanks for the bibliography, Obscura. I am surfing over to Amazon to check them out (how very fitting, considering the Penthesilea reference in your post…) Maybe the wham-bang quality of the myths is what my daughter likes about them so much. She does not have much patience (clearly *my* daughter, ahem). Her favourite ancient goddess is Athene – for war and wisdom (an interesting combo, kind of fitting for my headstrong baby, too), and she proudly wears a Pegasus coin (Athena on the back) on a necklace around her neck… I think I need to take her over to London on a little bonding trip and visit the Elgin marbles with her. Or go back to Berlin where I was choking back tears two years ago when I finally got to see the Pergamon altar.

  4. Leigh says:

    I’d go with at least PG13 for most Greek mythology. Even if it isn’t explicit, Zeus’ liaisons with all and sundry, in various guises, is not exactly kid stuff. Apollo chases Daphne. Aphrodite is insatiable. Dionysis seduces Ariadne after Theseus abandons her. Omophagic Bacchantes anyone? Pasiphae and Europa — good grief. And then there are humans who seem to have no problem with adultery and murder. Suppose Paris had been able to resist abducting Helen -> no Trojan War?

    I do feel the tragedy of Achilles and Penthesilea. They are both warriors, both impelled to fight. Had they met under other circumstances, the chemistry and mutual respect might have become much more. Yet like Guy, Achilles thinks with his sword first and the woman dies.

    • obscura says:

      I think I read myth first in 8th grade and whatever version we had – may have been Hamilton – was neutered down pretty well for us – but I was also hopelessly naive at 12, I don’t know if that is true of today’s kids. All of that lust – fulfilled and unfulfilled is definitely there – right beneath the surface – all you have to do is give it a tiny scratch and look out! That is one of the great ironies for me in Greek culture – there is an acknowledgement that men have very little ability to “just say no” to the seductive power of women (notice they make the poster boy a non-Greek) – and that lack of control manifests in a desire to control female sexuality lest they be damaged by it — like a broken record!

      Depending on the myth, it is unclear that he knew that she was female when he attacked, but the result is still the same – that is definitely Achilles MO – swing sword first, ask questions later…

      • guylty says:

        Thanks for your warnings, ladies. Yeah, my daughter is 12, so it may be better to look for a sanitised, kids version. She hugely enjoyed the Odyssy kids’ version a couple of years ago.

  5. […] Armitage, Guy, and Achilles — Tragic lovers? […]

  6. fitzg says:

    Greek mythology is not for the faint of heart – and as said, it is pre-Christian. How perceptive to relate the Achilles tale with Guy. A universal theme? To kill the thing you love? Did Gisborne attempt to escape himself, by his deadly reaction to Marion – unable to live up to her principles?

    • obscura says:

      Gisborne, as played by Richard Armitage, evokes a lot of the same sort of pathos that the Greeks were so fond of, that I never got from this character in other Robin Hood versions. Whether it’s deliberate or not, there seems to be a lot of modeling of epic/tragic themes in Guy…killing love is one of them

      Escaping himself is an intriguing idea, although it was maybe illusory for him – unlike Achilles, Gisborne is burdened with Christian guilt/remorse because of his actions….neither sentiment is particularly common in the classical tradition.

  7. […] there are plenty of stories of infatuation and lust in the classical tradition…stories like Achilles and Penthesilea, Apollo and Daphne, and many others touch on these themes, but rarely is there the boy and girl […]

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