On Multi-Heeled Achilles

Interesting post over at Scientific American wherein a researcher ponders the use of “the Achilles heel” in cancer research … here’s a tease:

[… ] I decided to google the expressions “Achilles’ heel” and “cancer”. It turns out that every year, numerous press releases and news articles claim that researchers have finally identified the “Achilles’ heel” of cancer. In Greek mythology, Achilles only had two feet and thus two heels; only one of the two heels was vulnerable. So how can it be that hundreds of researchers have found the Achilles’ heel of cancer? Apparently, I am not the only one who has used this metaphor inappropriately and it begs the question, whether we should even be using it at all.

When I was a child, Gustav Schwab’s “Sagen des klassischen Altertums” was one of my favorite books. His gripping narrative of the ancient Greek myths has also been translated from German into English and is available as “Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece”. It was in this book that I first encountered the legend of Achilles and the story of the Trojan War, originally relayed by the Greek poet Homer in his great epic “The Illiad”. Achilles was the son of the sea-goddess (nymph) Thetis and King Peleus and was known for his great strength and skills in battle, but I could find nothing heroic in this demigod Achilles.

Even though I loved Schwab’s narration, I despised Achilles. He vacillated between fits of rage and episodes of prolonged sulking. He was rude, arrogant and violent – Anakin Skywalker on steroids. I was especially horrified by how Achilles tied the body of his enemy Hector to his chariot and dragged it around, in order to humiliate the deceased and inflicting great psychological pain on Hector’s family. Basically, Achilles was a jerk; but according to the diagnostic classification of the American Psychiatric Association, Achilles may just have had IED (intermittent explosive disorder). […]

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