Which Beauty ? The testament of Lord Byron in Achilles and in «The Deformed Transformed» (his last draft for theater), by Marguerite Champeaux-Rousselot

Beauty Byron Achilles

Byron and Beauty… Which Beauty ?   Let’s follow him.

Aged 21, Byron sets off on his Grand Tour.

He condenses his fortnight in Troy to « the barrrows supposed  to contain the carcases  of Achilles, Antilochus, Ajax etc. » [1]

This detail that shocks him visually here, is the germ of my paper.

His interest in Achilles never left him, and he enriched it with strong ethical overtones (from where we get our title).


We shall try to define « the good life » as Byron sees it, and, by simply following the chronological order of passages concerning this mythological hero, we can retrace one aspect of Byron’s beliefs on the values to be chosen, and on the path to be followed.


My first part emphasises the importance  of Byron’s vision of Achilles, who is clearly impressed by the contrast between the great hero and this  pile of ashes. ( 1810)


Two years after his voyage, in Childe Harold and  The Bride of Abydos, Byron explains that this «lone and nameless barrow » »[2], this  « defenceless  » [3] and  » little urn »,   « saith more than thousand homilies. »  [4] : it speaks of the early death[5] of a hero who gloriously squandered his life, of the futility of this brief glory, and of human ingratitude [6].


Further, he conjures him[7] up  to protect modern Greece from political enemies and pillagers of works of art  : hence he asks where is


                         Peleus’s son? whom Hell in vain enthrall’d,

                        His shade from Hades upon that dread day,

                        Bursting to light in terrible array ! [8]  


Byron described himself in something like these terms whilst wandering along the banks of the Scamandre, after his stay in Greece.

Could we find here as early as 1810 the seed of his idea ( to come back to help the Greeks), and could we infer that Byron saw himself as an Achilles figure? [9]


In The Corsair[10],  the desire for a  glorious and early death[11] refers implicitly to him.

[12]In the Ode to a lady whose lover was killed  by a ball…, Byron uses an alembic reference  …This lover, wounded in his heart,  is, thus,  likened to the son of Thetis,  a runner who had a  weak point in his heel :


« [13] No Cuirass o’er that glowing heart

The deadly bullet turned apart,

Love  had bestowed a richer Mail

            Like Thetis[14] on her Son,

But hers at last was vain, –

And the lover’s race was run(…)[15]

So Byron has succeeded in reaching  him via a very complicated route,  which often bears on the theme of inherent weakness, which of course,   personally affected him :  we can distinguish here :

1)                             Physical defects in a perfect body,

2)                             Minute but deadly failings,

3)            Defects coming from a great motherly love taken for granted perhaps (that is to say that of Thetis for Achilles and Mrs Byron for her son.) But yet a defect, that Byron puts down to a lack of motherly love (he said that his mother, whilst pregnant with him, wore a corset which caused him to be born crippled) [16].


My next section is called « The burlesque of Achilles in Don  Juan ».( 1819)


For the young Byron, Achilles was a subject of eulogy, a model of gallantry, a role-model, a young hero who died early in an exemplary way ; who gave the  young Byron moral lessons to do with the shortness of life,  human inconstancy, and  involuntary flaws in perfection …


But, from 1819, there is a brutal change : throughout Don Juan, irony triumphs, and this my second section .

For example, Byron jests in rather bad taste about the dinner[17] prepared by Achilles for  the suppliant Priam. To excuse such lapses, he declares he has abandoned the Romantic stance  because he now finds everything disgusting :


[18]we must  steep

Our hearts first in the depths of Lethe’s Spring

            Ere what we least wish to behold will sleep :

Thetis baptized her mortal son in Styx;

            A mortal mother would on Lethe fix.[19]


He later returns to the subject almost mechanically, as if to repudiate the feelings that he has experienced near his tomb : for example, speaking of  Don Juan, tossed about by the waves, catching sight of Achilles’ ashes resting place :


« Another time, he might have liked to see’em,

But now was not much pleased with Cape Sigaeum. » [20]



« There, on the green and village-cotted hill, is

                        (Flank’d by the Hellespont, and by the sea)

Entomb’d the bravest of the brave, Achilles ;

                        They say so – ( Bryant say the contrary);

And further downward, tall and towering still, is

                        The tumulus – of whom ? Heaven knows ; ‘t’may be

Patroclus, Ajax,or Protesilaus;

                        All heroes who if living, still would slay us. » [21]


This was, however, where, I think,  Byron experienced the beginnings of his beliefs about the fragility of the human race and the changeability of mankind, as he writes.


I’ve stood  upon Achilles’ tomb,

            And heard Troy doubted ; time will doubt of Rome.[22]


The fickleness of mankind leads him to think about  his own fame : the glory of conquerors, like that of poets, will all be forgotten, so once again he can allude to him[23].


This burlesque and satirical tone becomes more and more pronounced whenever he is thinking  about  fighting for, and with, the Greeks.

Why this contradiction?

Perhaps Byron supposed he would be compared with him, in commendation or shame, and could even be accused of trying to emulate him. To criticise him, was therefore  to discretely deny any wish to resemble him.


As he « approaches » Greece, Byron increases his now habitual irony about two traditional Achillean virtues : beauty and valour :

In 1823, in Don Juan, Canto VII, stanza 14 and 39, Achilles, « grim and gory », is  compared and assimilated to brutally hideous soldiers.


The most spectacular example of irony is  a burlesque version of Achilles’ fatal injury : an enemy has bitten   [24]


the very tendon, which most acute –

                        ( That which some ancient Muse or modern Wit

Named after thee, Achilles)  and quite through’d it. [25]


The Officer here ends up lame for life [26], and Byron, who bore a grudge against the doctors who had never been able to do anything about his leg at birth or later, blames[27] the surgeon. [28]


And so  to my third section 3  : changes of values. (1821-february  1823)

In fact, the reasons of these changes of tone are progressive changes of values  that we can notice  since about 1821 ( and this will be my third part) .


In The Island [29] , the tone of the 3 allusions to Achilles  becomes more serious :

1°) He is  called a student-poet to Centaur Chiron[30]. It is a strange reference since Achilles was not famous for his poetical gifts.

2°) Byron  makes  a deprecatory allusion to Achilles’ tomb, as inferior to the cairns of the natives[31]. Strange again.

3°) He discloses[32] the modalities of his fascination for Achilles and Greece  :  he was in fact searching everywhere for his childhood impressions:


The infant rapture still survived the boy,

And Loch-na-gar with Ida  looked o’er Troy,

Mixed Celtic memories with the Phrygian mount,

(… )Forgive me, Homer’s universal shade!

Forgive me, Phoebus! that my fancy’s trayed.



His vision  of Achilles has clearly changes.


There is also , then, a change in behaviour :


For the first time in works intended for publication[33], Byron treats with near realism his relationship with his parents : Canto XVII  of Don Juan too, begins by illustrating the sufferings of unloved children  and  The Deformed Transformed  begins by cruelly portraying the lack of motherly love.


Concerning our subject, let us note first two others allusions to our poor Thetis ‘s  in this last short text :


1) Arnold wanted only to wholly resemble Achilles, but The Stranger points out that Arnold has forgotten a detail : the said Achilles measured « twelve cubits »  :  in battle, the  culverins would wound him more easily than the Paris’arrow through Achilles’


Which Thetis had forgotten  to baptize

In Styx.


(Once again, so, Byron here alludes to his mother’s supposed responsibility in causing Byron’s own lameness.)


2) second allusion  when Arnold-Achilles is setting off to fight with remarkable but rash bravery : the Byron-Stranger figure once again alludes to the consequences of the lack of professional awareness of our poor Thetis ! :


But though I gave the  form of Thetis ‘son,

I dipt  thee not in Styx; and ‘gainst a foe,

I would not warrant  thy chilvalric heart

More than Pelides’ (heel).[34]



More important, The Deformed transformed broaches strong ethical questions[35] about the Good Ligfe , but with new answers from Byron : the quesiton of the choice of the Beauty is very important here . it is common to two of the three sources mentioned by Byron[36] . ( see Imke Heuer’s paper) . Arnold chooses[37] the persona of Achilles because of its physical  beauty[38], and because he wants to be loved .


Now what is new ?

The fact that the the Stranger  openly criticises Arnold’s choices ( Beauty etc.) as obvious, superficial, and almost childlike. [39]

-For instance, it is the first work where Byron almost publicly links physical imperfection[40] with courage, explaining that  valour is the virtue necessarily earned by those who are deformed in some way. [41]

Perhaps Byron himself had chosen this type of  psychological reaction ( in French we call it « resilience »)  :  riding and swimming until exhausted, breaking  records, and taking risks.   

But, here, when Arnold is setting off to fight bravely, the Stranger compares the vanity of the battles with everlasting values for which Man should fight. Paradoxical reproaches from the Devil!

-Later, Arnold  falls in love with Olimpia whom he thinks that he has just  killed[42], but the Stranger sneeringly likens this episode to Achilles’ love[43] for  Penthesilea, the Amazon, after Achilles  killed her .

-Later on, even if the  Stranger revives Olympia[44], he soon hints that Arnold’s honeymoon is already over :  absolute  practical proof that the key-values of Arnold-Achilles have meant nothing.

Byron of course writes these lines : could he be reproaching  his own conscience  for having been obsessed with his own limp and  having paid  too much attention to physical beauty and ephemeral qualities ? …

It is clear that Byron becomes more and more distant from the mythic light-footed and impetuous  hero [45]… who is no longer his  role-model, nor his own conception of Achilles  a guide : from now on, Byron’s  mouthpiece is The Stranger.


Achilles is thus openly relegated to secondary importance[46] even at the very moment, in march 1823, when Byron is preparing his own embarcation to Greece, to be a hero rather than a poet [47]


But, precisely,  he has missed out the fact that  in the Iliad, the Achaean victory would only be due  to the fighting of Achilles, yet he  would die  before Troy …

Why therefore has Byron never mentioned  this idea of a death, so to speak, foreseen and accepted ? of a « sacrifice » ?

It is almost impossible, I think, that Byron did not see the call to go to fight in and for Greece as a  moving repetition of Achilles’ actions.

Silence on this topic can perhaps be simply explained because Byron dared not even favour  a possible comparative connexion.


This silence leads into my last part  which could be entitled : A different,   possibly a sublimated Achilles  ( july   23).


Until now, we have followed the chronological order  of the texts, but now[48] we are obliged to take the liberty  of studying his last texts and even scraps[49]  after july 1823,  as if they were contemporary and definitive[50].

In the scrap of The Deformed Transformed, the failures of the choices of Arnold-Achilles are  still much more flagrant.  Valour and beauty were/are essentially fugitive[51], as the Stranger succinctly summarises :

You are beautiful and brave –  the first is much

 For passion –  and the next for vanity  –[52]


The mythological Achilles and his values have vanished beneath the bitter irony of the Stranger.


In a September poem[53], entitled Aristomenes, Byron, weighing up all this mythological beauty as if to bid farewell to myths, admits that he has been  under an illusion. Trelawny, among others, testifies too that Byron, as soon  as he set off for Greece,  refused  any literature, even Homeric.

Similarly, in his famous poem read to his friends on his 36th birthday, he is presented  as  already dead  since the flame of his passion can no more  set fire[54] to another … :


The fire that on my bosom preys

            Is  lone as some Volcanic Isle,

            No torch  is kindled at its blaze

                        A funeral pile !


The worm, the canker  and the grief

                        Are mine alone.


This  rejection of his  love ought to ( as The Stranger would have told him) make him to treat physical beauty  with contempt.


 Tread those reviving passions down

Unworthy Manhood  ; – unto thee

Indifferent should the smile or frown

            Of Beauty be.


It is almost, again, a kind of death or suicide .


Why all these changes ?


We know that  Byron was passionately torn by  an unreciprocated love in the Ancient Greek style[55] in these last months, and confesses his own weakness.

The end[56] of the scrap of  the end of The Deformed Transformed shows us  a person who is weak  in front of  his own desire to be loved[57].

In  the last verses of his last poem[58], he confesses that he is basically « the fool of passion ».


Hence new reactions and  texts, in which the theme of Achilles is implicit.


We shall try to explain some of these complications which may lurk in Byron’s mind in his relation to and contest of mind about loving Loukas and fighting for Greece. It is difficult but interesting … and may be provoke some discussion.  I hope so …


In the  poem on his Birthday, he signifies that he wants to die,  and sets out his reasons:


If thou regret’st thy youth, why live   ?


T’is time this heart should be unmoved

            Since others it hath ceased to move.


He proclaims that he will seek Death here  :


                        The Land of honourable Death

            Is here  –  up to the Field ! and give

                        Away thy Breath.


            Seek out – less often sought than found,

            A Soldier’s Grave – for thee the best,

            Then look around and choose thy ground

                        And take thy Rest. [59]


Death is not so much the met death of a stoic warrior, but rather  the hope of rest  for a suffering man  [60].

The strength and style of these passive and active reactions  resemble those of Achilles : Achilles, angry against Agamemnon, and in love with Briseis, refuses to fight with Agamemnon ; and mad of pain because of  Patroclus, chooses to fight even until death… Moral and physical death are confused together here.


But we suggest that Byron, this finally rejected lover, who could give up everything, remains master of his acts, and so this byronian dichotomy is weighed up and analysed in those  last poems of his.


Yet in his last texts, and even in full despair of love, he does not blaspheme against the  own principles he had chose .

1)      The poem on his Birthday is clearly a decision for a useful and « honourable Death »[61]. He works himself up to heroism and in effect, he chooses Death in combat, in place of a futile death.

2) In his Last verses too, he aims higher than past or future honours and fame,  and  knows what it is worth dying for :


                        What are  to me those honours or renown

                        Past or to come, a new-born people’s cry

                        Albeit for such I could despise a crown

                                   Of aught save Laurel, or for such could die ;

Even weak in love, — even ‘the  fool of passion’ as he says—he declares that he will still be able to continue to  risk his life, but only for  « a new-born people’s cry » »or for such »  :   that is to say Greece[62].


If Achilles seems essentially  to be a hero obedient only to his feelings,  Byron in his last months, seems to realize that, since  his new love will be probably always  unreciprocated, he can, at least, overpass  his own desire  for beauty and love, and  act as a moral and free hero.

He confesses that he is not a hero of the Achilles’ type, and that valour is no more a real aim for him : but isn’t this the best courage ? the true one ? Since his life cannot get hdonh ( pleasure), would not his « good life » take the active significations of arhth (virtue)  and  eupraxia  ( good and right  conduct or action)[63]  ?

Here, I move into a difficult territory which needs more thought … I will again be grateful for your comments in the discussion, and also look forward to  Professor Peter Graham’s paper.



It is time to conclude on our brief exploration of the figure of Achilles in Byron’s thought and verse.


It has been the leitmotif which has allowed us to trace the development of Byron’s  opinion about the Good Life [64].  

Courage and glory, beauty and pleasure, immortality, motherly love, friendship and love, have been exchanged for almost opposite themes: human changeability, loneliness, defects, early death, moral faults and wider ethical problems.

There has been a corresponding change from high Romantic rhetoric to burlesque, realism, autobiography and the decision for  action…


Depending on whether  he saw Achilles as a son of Thetis or a hero, « light » or  « defected-footed »,  with a loving or a stupid  mother,  Byron saw him like a brother, an elder or a father figure, with the obscure inherent feelings associated with these relationships …[65]


The Homeric figure was wonderful, but perhaps rather simple; Byron’s vision of Achilles is complex.

His own death is still more complex for it seems to be both a mere twist of fate and yet still his own forchosen heroic death.


Today, only a « defenceless urn » remains from Lord Byron — the man nourished by Achilles, estranged from him, and perhaps reunited with him, voluntarily or not, into the ineradicable realm  of myths and of role models.

From which we could take some of our own patterns and choices, as to what makes a good life and a good death…


Paper given at the 29th Annual Conference of The International Byron Society, at Liverpool, (from the 19th of August to 26th of August 2003) : Lord Byron and the Good Life.

Original title in 2003  : From Achilles to The Stranger of  The Deformed Transformed : the testaments of Byron.



[1]« The only vestiges  of Troy, or her destroyers,  are.. » may 1810, 3rd,  letter to  Henry Drury ; or  : « the tombs of Achilles  and Aesiates(sic) ». « I also passed a fortnight in  the Troad. etc. still exist  in large barrows  similar to those  you have  doubtless seen  in the North.   : letter to his mother, june 1810, 28th

[2] « Their flocks are gazing on the mounds

   Of him who  felt the Dardan’s arrow ;-

   That mighty heap  of gathere’d ground ()

   Is now.. (The Bride of Abydos,   II  44-45).

[3] II stan.3-4, lines  19 sq. He notes himself : « his ashes  were said  to have been mixed in an urn with those of Patrocles, and placed  at Sigaeum ».

[4] Childe Harold   II, end of stanza 4, l.36.

« the vanish’d Hero’s lofty mound »  ( l.37  st. 5).

« Far on the solitary shore he sleeps

He fell.  »l. 37-38 st.5.

Note by  Byron himself  about the line   38 : « It was not always  the custom of the Greeks to burn their dead  ; the Greater Ajax in particular was entered entire. Almost all the chiefs became gods after their decease, and he was indeed neglected, who had no annual games near his tomb, or festivals in honour of his memory by his country-men, as Achilles, Brasidas etc. and at last even Antinous, whose death was as heroic as his life was infamous »

[5] The theme of the  forgotten and lost tomb is often mentioned with the one of early death, and then Achille is only  implicit then.

[6]In fact he writes : « To wave the question of  devotion, and turn to human  eloquence, It is one thing to  read the Iliad  at Sigaeum and on the tumuli, or by the springs  with the mount Ida above,  and the plains and the rivers  and Archipelago  around  you, and another  to trim your taper  over in a snug library. – this I know.  »

[7] in 1812, in Childe-Harold. Achilles, according to a little known post-classical legend,   wanted to escape from the Hell  to help Aceans.

[8] What ? could not Pluto spare the chief once more,

To scare a second robber from his prey ?

Idly he wander’d on the Stygian  shore,

Nor now preserv’d the walls he lived to shield before  ( II st. 14 lines  120 sq.)

[9] This shows clearly, in  any case, concerns, which will not remain only intellectual metaphors.

[10]In 1814.

[11]« Oh! excepté celui  dont le cœur l’a éprouvé, qui peut  dire le sentiment plein  d’exaltation et le  jeu délirant du pouls qui font tressaillir  l’homme errant sur cette voie sans bornes et sans traces ? désirer pour lui-même le combat imminent,  faire ses délices de ce que les autres appellent danger,  rechercher avec joie ce que les lâches fuient avec crainte,  et, là où défaillent  les faibles, sentir, – sentir, jusqu’au  plus profond du cœur qui se gonfle,  ses espérances s’éveiller et grandir son courage! …

La mort est pour nous sans terreur, – pourvu que nos ennemis meurent avec nous -, ce n’est pour nous qu’un sommeil plus profond  : qu’elle vienne quand elle voudra ! nous nous hâtons de jouir de la vie, et quand nous la perdons, qu’importe  que ce soit  par les maladies ou dans les combats ? Que celui qui traîne son existence,  épris de la décrépitude, se cramponne à sa couche  et y consume ses jours  dans la souffrance ; qu’il ne respire qu’avec effort, et que sa tête paralysée tremble sur ses épaules ; à nous la fraîche tombe de gazon et non le lit fiévreux ! Tandis que, râle à râle, il rend son âme épuisée, la nôtre, avec une angoisse, – d’un seul bond-, échappe à toute contrainte.

[12] about 1820,

[13] Thy Lover died – as All

Who truly love should die

For such are worthy in the fight to fall


[14] Death of his mother in 1811

[15] Thy worshipped portrait, thy sweet face

Without  that bosom kept its place

                As Thou within,

Oh ! Envious destined Ball! (St. 4)

[16] The theme of Achilles’heel, but in a more metaphoric meaning, is reused in Marino Faliero,  in  1820. ( V,1, line  434 ) :


Have made  the lion mad ere now ; a shaft

I’the heel o’erthrew the bravest of the brave…

[17] In  1821, in the continuation of  Don Juan, II st.123., refering to ‘Iliad IX 193, and to the dinner, Byron  supposes   excellent. It is the same theme as in 1807, in the poem  To Romance, where Byron was telling that he was  going to try to abandon romance ( = fiction), ie. childish and adolescent joys,  and grasp reality … He was also telling that the idea of  friendship  was  an  illusion  : the Pylads ( = proverbial friend, very dear to Orest, a little like Patroclus for Achilles, do not really exist )

[18] And the sad truth which hovers o’er my  desk

Turns what was once romantic to burlesque.


And I laugh at any mortal thing,

                ‘Tis that I may not weep; and if I weep,

‘Tis that our nature cannot always bring

                Itself to apathy, for…

[19] Don Juan,  IV  st.3 and  4

[20] in  1821, Don Juan,  IV st. 75, line 598  « The shores of Ilion lay beneath their lee… ».

[21] Don Juan,  IV St.  76, line 601. Before, the tombs of the heroes are nothing but silhouettes  which are giving shadows : the sea is  « o’ershadowed  there by many a hero’s grave ».( Don Juan,  IV,  st. 79, line 628). Is this biting irony of one who is furious because he has been victim of an illusion, or an easy way to get a success of scandal ? Later, in Don Juan,  IV  St.77, line 609, he paints  also those miserable places  insisting on the time which runs :

« High barrows, without marble, or a name,

                A vast, untitl’ed, and mountain skirted plain,

And Ida in  the distance, still the same.

[22] 1821 Don Juan,  IV St. 101, line 801.  See also :

« The very generations of the dead

                Are swept away; and tombs inherit tomb

Until the memory of an age is fled,

And, buried, sinks beneath its offspring’s doom ». (1821 Don Juan,  IV St. 102, line  809)


[23] « I pass’d each day where Dante’s bones are laid :

                               A little cupola, more neat than solemn,

     Protects his dust, but reverence is paid

                               To the bard’s tomb, and not the warrior column :


   The time must come, when both  alike decay’d,

                               The chieftain’s trophy, and the poet ’s volume,

    Will sink where lie the songs and wars of earth,

Before Pelide’s death, or Homer’s birth. »  ( 1821, Don Juan, IV; st. 102, line 809 sq. )

[24] A Russian officer, in martial tread,

                               Over a heap of bodies, felt his heel

Seized fast, as if ‘twere by the serpent’s head

                               Whose fangs Eve taught her human seed to feel :

In vain he kicked, and swore, and writhed, and bled,

                               And howled for help as wolves do for a meal,-

The teeth still kept  their gratifying hold,

As do the subtle  snake described of old.


A dying Moslem, who had felt the foot

Of a foe o’er him, snatched at it, and bit …


[25] He made the teeth meet, nor relinquish’d it

          Even with his life – for ( but they lie) ‘tis said

To the live leg still clung the severe head.

[26] However this may be, ‘tis pretty sure

                               The Russian officer  for life was lamed,

For the Turk’s teeth stuck  faster than a skewer,

                               And left him ‘midst the invalid and maimed

[27] The regimental surgeon could not cure

                               His patient, and perhaps was to be blamed

More than the head of the inveterate foe,

                               Which was cut off, and scarce  even then let go.

1823 Don Juan Chant VIII  strophe 84 vers 657 – 680

[28] This funny parody of epics is followed, end 1823, by a subtile reference to Achilles  in The Age of Bronze :  il puts as first sentence a quotation of Aeneid I, 475, ( proving that he knew it very well, to joke about the Congress:   ‘Impar Congressus Achilli’. Byron underlines the word « congressus » and puts on it a majuscule  :   he then clearly alludes to the Congress of the Holy Alliance, by a « jeu de mot » who would mean « the Congress is inferior to  Achilles »

[29] published in 1823.

[30] cf Pindare Nemean, ode 3,53 sq.

1823 The Island,  II St.  5, line  85 :    « A boy Achilles, with the Centaur’s lyre

In hand,  to teach him to surpass  his sire. »

[31] The naked knights  of savage chivalry,

Whose grassy cairns ascend along the shore,

And thine, – I’ve seen – Achilles, do no more.                         1823 The Island,  II st. 10, line 217

[32] He begins by declaring  that he adored the Alps, loved the Apennines, revered Parnassus, contemplated Ida, Olympus, Greece and Troy …II St. 12, line 290 sq.

[33] but which remain incomplete following his accidental death

[34]  Part II scene 2 l.15-19 :    I gave thee

A form of beauty, and a frame of power –

Exemption  from some maladies of body,

But not  of mind, which is  not mine to give.

[35] It is a weird play in which Arnold, hunchbacked, rejected by everyone, is violently driven away by his mother. He attempts suicide, but a « Stranger » proposes he chooses another persona:  as he wants to be loved

« As I am now,

    I might be fear’d, admired, respected, loved

    Of all save those next to me, except of whom I

    Would be beloved. »     (DT Part 1, scene 1).

So, he only wants to change his shape, only because of his mother :

 »  I could have borne

  It all, had  not my mother spurn’d me from her.

    The she-bear licks her cubs into a sort

    Of shape; my dam beheld my shape was hopeless. »

[36] Advertising  : « This production is founded  partly on the story of a Novel called « The Three Brothers » published many years ago, from which M.G.Lewis « Wood Demon » was also taken – and partly on the « Faust » of the great Goethe. ». In The Wood Daemon, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, Beauty is a trap made by the Devil … In The Three Brothers, by Joshua Pickersgill junior,  Beauty would brings Goodness.

[37]  He thinks best  to base his choice on physical beauty : so he turns down 5 mythological or historic  characters, even Apollo and Socrates DT Part I sc. 1  : « No. I was not born for philosophy

         Though I have that about me which has need on’t. »

[38] (DT Part I, sc 1, line 266 and  358-420). His first words, as he is now shaped into Achilles, translate his aim : « I love and I shall be beloved. Oh life! ». 

[39] For example, when Arnold looks at the Stranger’s new form, ( Arnold’s old one ! ), his first reaction receives  the ironic reflections of the always placid Stranger…

Arnold ( in his new form)

 « Oh! Horrible !« 

Stranger ( in Arnold’s late shape)

Oh ! you wax proud, I see, of your new form :

I’m glad of that. Ungrateful too! That’s well;

You improve apace ; – two changes in an instant,

And you are old  in the world’s  ways already                (Part I, scene 1.)

[40] It is also the first work also to use the word « lame », referring here  to Timor,  (another instructive reference),  with whom Arnold-Achilles compares himself. This autobiographical aspect is one of the major interests of this play.

[41]                         « Deformity is daring.

It is its essence to  o’ertake mankind

By heart and soul, and make itself the equal –

Ay, the superior of the rest.. »

There is

A spur  in its halt movements, to become

All that  the others cannot,  in such things

As still are free  to both, to compensate

For stepdame Nature’s avarice at first.

They woo with fearless  the smiles of fortune,

And oft, like Timour the lame Tartar, win them »  ( I,sc.1 l. 322 ).

As early as 1816, Byron owned a copy of Bacon’s «  Of Deformity » which develops the same ideas Byron returns again and again to this theme…:  « Whosoever  hath anything fixed in his person, that doth induce contempt, hath also  perpetual spur in himself, to rescue and  deliver  himself  from scorn. Therefore, all deformed persons are extremely bold… first, at their own defence, as being exposed to scorn,  but in process of time by a general habit : also it stirreth  in them industry, and especially of this kind, to watch and observe  the weakness of others, that they may have somewhat to repay.

Whosoever  hath anything fixed in his person, that doth induce contempt, hath also  perpetual spur in himself, to rescue and  deliver  himself  from scorn. Therefore, all deformed persons are extremely bold… first, at their own defence, as being exposed to scorn,  but in process of time by a general habit : also it stirreth  in them industry, and especially of this kind, to watch and observe  the weakness of others, that they may have somewhat to repay. Again, in their superiors, it quencheth jealousy towards them, as persons that they think they may at pleasure despise : and it layeth their competitors  and emulators asleep, as never believing they should be in possibility of advancement till they see them in possession : so that upon the matter, in a great wit, deformity is an advantage to rising They will,  if they be  of spirit, seek to free themselves from scorn ; which must be either by virtue or malice;  and therefore let it not be marvelled, if sometimes  they prove excellent  persons. »  Bacon, « Of deformity », Essayes, 1612, IV et XVIV

On this theme too, I have a prepared paper about  Timour and Marlowe.

[42]  He indirectly at most, killed her,  but we shan’t know whether Arnold killed her, as for  Manfred and Astarte perhaps…


 How pale, how beautiful! how lifeless!

                Alive or dead, thou essence of all beauty,

I love but thee!

[43]     Even so Achilles loved

Penthesilea ; with his form, it seems

You have his heart, and yet it was no soft one      (Part II scene 3, lines  142-146).

Achilles slew the Amazon Penthesilea :  The Stranger sneeringly alludes to the tradition that, enamoured of her dead body, Achilles committed necrophilia.

[44] in exchange for a promise from Arnold –  promise ill-considered alas – and however lets it be understood that this love will have a quick and bitter end

[45] Byron has already used several aspects of this figure : Achilles with a solitary grave, Polyxene’s husband, Greek’s protector warrior, early dead hero, immortal except irrepressible defect, wrongly-loved child, vulnerable heeled man, perfect beauty top-model, valiant,  woman’s murderer and his victim’s lover

[46] Achilles had allowed him to create himself, using Achilles’ virtues (beauty and courage),  and he has had a comparative use with Byron’s personal and physical family situation, helping him to react.

A poem from May 1823 confirms this estrangement :

I am ashes  where once I was fire

                               And the bard in my bosom is dead,

                What I loved I  now merely admire –

                               And my heart is as grey as my head.  (To the countess of Blessington, l.9 to 13, may 1823  or a little before  ? )

[47] Why then did Byron publish this play in its disjointed form, and with nothing from Act III ?

About 1820, Byron is very worried about Greece.

In January 1822, he begins The Deformed Transformed.

In March 1823, he is called up by Greece and accepts.

Therefore,  he had to organise himself quickly:

-8th May, he begins Canto XVII of Don Juan.

-end of May, he sends the extracts from the Deformed Transformed for publication.

-30th June, he asks Hunt to print Canto XV and XVI of Don Juan,  without waiting for Canto XVII.

-22nd July,  he sets off for Greece

In August,  3rd, 1823 : he lands in  Cephallonia  and meets Loukas..

[48] After the last batches sent for publication mid 1823, we are almost certain of the dates of the six poems, rough or perfect editions, which he wrote after his departure, but we cannot date the scrap of the rough copy of Act III of The Deformed Transformed, found after his death.

[49] the rough copy of the sequel  of The Deformed Transformed  and 6 poems

[50] This hypothesis is not unacceptable, according to us, since  an intern study shows that their tonality is the same, but much more black.

[51]Byron has even written a memorandum, on the front page, in the margin of the scrap, to keep focused on this idea:

« Mem.Jealous – of Arnold of Caesar. Olympia at first not liking Caesar – thus Arnold jealous of Caesar  himself under his former figure, owing  to the Power of Intellect, etc. etc. etc. »

[52] Arnold understands that his valour, however personal, is worthless and that Olympia cannot love him in the perfect guise lent by Achilles, and that his ugliness would not have been an obstacle to love, on the contrary. He is jealous of himself…

[53] This poem,  written in september 1823, in  Cephalonia, is entitled « Aristomenes », after the name of a hero of the war of Greeks against Sparta  (650 BC) but   a beaten  hero. In  Canto First, he tells how beautiful was Greece, the one where nymphs

«in the embrace

                Of gods brought forth the heroic race

                Whose names are on the hills and o’er the seas. »

[54] as he can  only liken himself to a rotting body, (we are reminded that the Acheans believed that only the flaming log guaranteed life in the hereafter), and as the flame of his passion could no more  set fire …, different from that which, living, burns on the flaming pyres. ( of Patroclus, of Achilles, for examples). This untitled poem is dated :  « January 22nd 1824.(Messalonghi) »

[55] He fell in love with a 15 year old boy, Loukas.

[56] The last words of the Scrap of the DT express the irrepressible Arnold’s need  to be desired, need that Byron discovered as being, alas, his own.


(… )  What need you more ?


                                                         To be myself possest-

               To be her heart as she is mine.-                     ( Part  III, text of fragment, lines 53-54 and last line )

Arnold-Achilles wants, over all, to be loved,  and the Stranger, so ugly and may be loved, ( as we could understand some of his words )  comments ironically this « good life » :

                               « you would be loved, what you call loved

                Self-loved,  loved for yourself »

And so, we could think about the ethic suggested by the title of the play interrupted by death, and its probable end.

[57], a need he knows could  be now his downfall.

[58] The last verses of his last poem, composed between feb.9th and his death on april, 9th, without any title, and yet on scrap, insist too on the feebleness of Byron-Arnold-Achilles in front of  his love :

                               I am the fool of passion – and a frown

                                               Of thine to me is as an Adder’s eye

                               To the poor  bird whose pinion fluttering down

                                               Wafts unto death the breast it bore so high –

                               Such is the maddening fascination grown –

                                               So strong thy Magic- or so weak am I

[59] January 22nd 1824. Messalonghi.

It is striking to see that Byron considers that Achilles’Greece is the home of honourable or valiant death, Greece from where Achilles rushed forwards to fall elsewhere. In the same way, the Celt Byron accepted  to die in Achilles’Greece.

[60] Now Byron longs to give away his breath : it  is not a warrior’s  aim, but a too much suffering one’s … A warrior « finds », despite him,  Death on his fighting way,  but Byron will « seek » a grave, in a place, a « ground »   like the best ground for a bed. The grave of a simple soldier is for him the best, because he can no more have a death of a real hero, of a captain : the reasons why he would find death are different …  He is lucky enough if, instead of committing suicide, or  escaping danger, he can rest in a simple soldier’s grave.  He cannot choose his death, but focuses on the place where he shall find endly rest..

[61]  He is conscious and reveals he only appears to be like the great soul of Achilles, being in fact inferior to this Achilles. His death will be honourable, not heroic.

[62] Greece, for Greece is  like a new- born babe which is given his own life by his parents, but here Byron imagines himself giving life by giving his own life to bring  Greece to a new birth.

[63] = honourable

[64] During his youth, this  character has been the pillar of compensation and sublimation  through beauty and valour.

[65] An ambivalent and evolutive   relationship developed both with him and against him.