In ancient Greek tragedies, the Hero always had a hamartia; a fatal, tragic flaw that ultimately led to their downfall.
This was most memorably depicted in the story of Achilles, hero of the Trojan War and protagonist of Homer Iliad who was played by Brad Pitt in the 2005 film Troy.
According to legend, Achilles was invulnerable because his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx when he was a child. But due to her holding his heel, there was one part of his body untouched by the mythic waters, and the only weakness his opponents could exploit.
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Today, the story is so famous that the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel was named after the Greek hero, and the phrase “Achilles’ heel” has become synonymous with the one weakness that leads to a fall.
This flaw need not be physical: in other Greek legends hamartia there could have been greed, a lust for power, or a mentality that was too logical and disrespectful to the gods.
Shakespeare also painted similar tragic heroes with a key weakness in plays such as Macbeth, King Lear or Titus Andronicus. His tragic heroes were largely flawed because of the decisions they made, often ill-considered and ill-considered.
In the 19th century, authors such as Thomas Hardy condemned their tragic heroes by instilling in them a “paralysis of will” that often led to a lonely death.
It can be helpful for us to try to assess our own potential shortcomings and try to reframe them in a positive way. What can potentially distract us and lead us away from our goals? Apathy, procrastination? Food or drink?
Self-assessment of shortcomings
One way to assess our potential weaknesses is to write in a three-column journal.
In the first column, describe the ideal person you would like to become or see yourself in the future. What are their positive qualities? What brings them success? What characteristics or traits do others admire about them?
In the second column, create a person you would not like to become. What are their negative characteristics? How do others see them? Why did they fail?
Finally, in the third column, indicate what steps you could take to become more like the version of yourself in the first column and less like the version of yourself in the second column.
What realistic parts of yourself could you change or develop to become a better version of yourself? What potential pitfalls do you need to be aware of to make this happen?
This short exercise can often be instructive. We tend to focus on the ideal person we would like to be rather than the person we want to avoid, but recognizing potential flaws before they become apparent can help us achieve this.
A tragic flaw can often stop us from trying to become the best version of ourselves, and identifying a potential weakness before it gets in the way can be very rewarding.
By reframing the concept of the tragic hero to our advantage, we walk the path to avoid self-sabotage on our personal journey.
Don’t assume you don’t have an Achilles heel: find out what it is before it leads to tragedy.
Comment by MaArtial
Featured Photo: Brad Pitt as Achilles in Troy (2005) courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures