A Song of Achilles
“Achilles Come Down” by Gang of Youths has become one of my favourite lie down and cry songs, and I am not the only one who has found comfort in this seven minute ballad. The song, released in 2017, has been played over 30,000,000 times, according to Spotify. It is not Gang of Youths most played song but it is ranked as their most popular.
The song itself is simply intoxicating. There is something about the conversational tone of the lyrics, the way it talks to the listener in both the aggressor and the defender’s voice, both in French and in English. The ache of the singer and the swelling of violins allows for an emotional release to calm an ailing mind. In essence, this song is a narrative based in the story of Achilles. But there are two ways that it can be translated.
The first is as a simple lyrical retelling of the time between Patroclus’s death and Achilles entering the fight against the Trojans. In this version of the narrative, there is an argument happening within Achilles: the voice of Patroclus is soothing him to calm down and dissuade him from entering the suicide mission his rage is influencing him towards; the other voice is that of Agamemnon’s, encouraging Achilles to enter the war that he has wanted him to join.
The second is to translate the narrative as a comparison of the story of Achilles to a person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, trying to show the two sides of a person considering it. There is the side that says they “don’t suffer alone” and the other that reinforces the hurt through phrases such as, “no audience could ever want you.” This understanding stems from snippets of French throughout the song in which an essay on suicide from 1942, Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus, is read aloud.
Parts of the song claim that if a suicidal person were to have a friend nearby it might have been better, indicating that without Patroclus, Achilles was destined to lose himself in battle. Other parts speak of hopelessness, memory, and loss.
It is a song that has littered Tiktok, the social media app of Gen Z, with videos of people swaying to the song or cosplaying as Achilles, Graeco-Roman deities, and academics who have lost themselves in the world. There have been jokes about how the song is not therapy, how it can be used as self-deprecation, and has been the subject of the “my child is fine” or the concern through the internet meme formats.
The reason that the Iliad is considered a timeless tale is because there is so much to pull from it, so many emotions and scenes to relate to and feel for. Gang of Youths has managed to tap into the well that is the Iliad, and craft a song that modernizes the story's relatability. They have taken the pure rage and emotion that Achilles felt after Patroclus died and put it to music.
Last Minute Exile: Talia R. BarNoy, @teateemple
Hometown: New York City
High School: NYC iSchool
Like Seneca, like Aristotle, and like countless others from Classical history, you find yourself subject to an exile order, and must vacate the country tout-suite before some sort of sword-based injury befalls your neck!
You grab three records…
1. Abbey Road, The Beatles – I stole this record from my mom for college to continue the tradition
of stealing The Beatles records from your parents and taking them to college. Makes me feel at
2. Fiddler on the Roof, Original Movie Cast – I’m a Jewish musical lover. What can I say? I can’t live
an exile without Topol.
3. The Much Much How How and I, Cosmo Sheldrake – There are so many songs on this album
and they are so heavily and beautifully layered with different sounds. I could get lost in this
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – My copy has all the books in the series
so maybe I’m cheating? But I think, as an exile, I might feel a kinship with the characters and so it
might be nice to have them as constant companions.
2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The movies are what inspired me to start fencing and
the story is a glorious classic, even better in the book than on screen. I’d be lost without a copy
…a Tupperware of your favourite food…
Strawberries, but the perfectly ripened kind.
…and something else at random.
Notebook and pen for sure. Too many thoughts and adventures would be had to not have a
place to put them.
Exile is going to suck, but at least you won’t have to put up with…
American fast-food chains. I know the rest of the world has them, but they have them in a
different way? And they also have less of them and more actual good food. Or if not good,