Achillean refers to a man or man-aligned individual who is attracted to other men and men-aligned people.[note 1] This describes all sexual orientations where someone male or man-aligned is attracted to others, serving as an umbrella term for men and non-binary people who are gay, pansexual, bisexual, queer, or other sexualities in which men are attracted to men. It is similar to and sometimes known as men loving men (MLM).
The term "achillean" refers to the Greek hero Achilles. Its 21st century use to describe sexualities is modelled after the term "sapphic", which is used to describe all women who are attracted to women.
Achilles himself is a famous figure in Greek mythology. In relation to sexuality, Achilles had a relationship with another character, Patroclus, which is said to have romantic connotations. In Homer's Iliad, Achilles described Patroclus as being the "man I loved beyond all other comrades, loved as my own life." Their relationship plays a crucial part in the story. After Homer's iteration, the relationship between the men was depicted as a love affair.
Theocritus' Idyll XXIX, a love poem from a man to a boy, includes a phrase addressing their future: "ἀλλάλοισι πελώμεθ' Ἀχιλλέιοι φίλοι" (alláloisi pelómeth' Achilléioi fíloi). It has received loose poetic translations from the Aeolic Greek dialect into English, such as "we'll be Achilles and his friend," "we may be to one another as Achilles and his friend" with the meaning noted as "such friends as were Achilles and Patroclus," and "be friends to each other like Achilles and Patroclus;" however, the literal translation is "be Achillean friends to each other."
The word "Achillean" has historically been used to describe all things relating to the aforementioned Achilles. An early use of the term in English to describe sexuality was in A.C. Hamilton's 1959 article titled, "Spenser's Treatment of Myth":
"Guyon subdues these Achillean affections through his own power; but they break out again as Cymochles lapses into lust and Pyrochles burns in the idle lake."
Using the term achillean in such a manner predated the reclamation of the word "gay" by the community.
In ancient Rome and 19th century England, green indicated gay affiliations. Victorian men would often pin a green carnation on their lapel, as popularized by author Oscar Wilde.
The word "achillean" is often confused for gay or perceived to have the same meaning. However, gay describes a sexuality with attraction to only the same gender—men who are only attracted to other men. Achilleanism encompasses every male-based sexuality, therefore including all men, non-binary, and men-aligned people who are attracted to men. The term is meant to unite queer men.
- Gender identity is a personal experience, so defining "man-aligned" may lead to different answers depending on whom you ask, but it generally refers to a non-binary person who is partially aligned or identifies with being male, with masculinity, and/or with manhood. They may or may not individually identify with this term, and their identity may be fluid between others. Its use here attempts to encapsulate multiple identities without listing each possibility.
- Translated by J. M. Edmonds. "Idyll XXIX". The Greek Bucolic Poets. The Loeb Classical Library, 1912. (web archive)
- Translated by A. S. F. Gow. "Idyll XXIX". Theocritus. Cambridge University Press, 1950.
- Translated by Neil Hopkinson. "Idyll XXIX". Theocritus, Moschus, Bion. Harvard University Press, 2015. (web archive) The full lines containing the phrase are translated and annotated by Hopkinson as: "You should think of this and be pleasanter toward me, and love me as guilelessly as I love you, so that when you are a man(Lit. "when you have a manly cheek," i.e. a beard.) we may be friends to each other like Achilles and Patroclus.(Lit., "be Achillean friends to each other.")"
- Wiktionary entry for achillean (quotation under definition four of achillean (adjective)).
- Wikipedia entry on the year 1969 in gay liberation history.
- Archived Tumblr post announcing the achillean flag.
- DeviantArt post with the current achillean flag.