In the song "Something Just Like This," by Coldplay and the Chainsmokers, there's a line that says:

I've been reading books of old

The legends and the myths.

Achilles and his gold,

Hercules and his gifts.

I recall Achilles being associated with martial prowess and his famous heel, not gold. What does the song refer to?

  • 3
    My best guess would be that the gold refers to the riches Achilles got from fighting - he, as did the other fighters, got a share of the spoils from war. Achilles got a larger portion, both because of a fight between Agamemnon and himself, and because he was one of the best fighters. From there, gold was used because it fits both the rhythm better, and probably because it draws more attention to his ability - the song is about superheroes, not unfortunate ways to die. Aug 13 '17 at 13:51
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    It would make more sense if the lyrics said Midas and his gold.
    – David
    Aug 19 '17 at 17:53
  • Goodness, a gold badge already.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jun 7 '18 at 2:05

One of Achilles’ best known and most important connections with gold is that he rejects the treasure, including ten talents of gold (δέκα δὲ χρυσοῖο τάλαντα, Iliad 9.122 & 9.264), that is offered by Agamemnon as an inducement to rejoin the war effort. For he is in receipt of divine intelligence (from his mother Thetis, 9.410–416) that if he continues to fight at Troy he will die young, and his reward is to be immortal fame.

Provision for immortal fame involves, first, recognition from his peers, in the form of treasure-gifts, including spear-prize women, awarded by the army collectively (1.162) in recognition of meritorious service on the raids that bring in the treasure. After that, and in some measure depending on such signal honors, the hero can become a personage in heroic epic, which lasts forever. Agamemnon’s insulting and autocratic revocation of the army’s award of the woman has in effect broken the mechanism by which Achilles can hope for immortal fame. And as he himself points out, treasure itself cannot equally well be worth dying for, and cannot undo death:

Of possessions
cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting,
and tripods can be won, and the tawny high heads of horses,
but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted
nor captured again by force, once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier. (9.406–409, Lattimore trans.)

Another connection is the famous armor, particularly the shield, created for Achilles by Hephaestus at Iliad 18.478–607. Materials for the shield include bronze, tin, and silver as well, but the figuration or blazonry that dominates the passage prominently features gold.

The association of Hercules with gifts also raises questions. The song elsewhere uses gifts in the sense of talents (in the modern sense of extraordinary god-given abilities, not as weight or mass unit), and presumably is using it in that sense also in relation to Hercules—who is not so much known for gifts, in the sense of presents, as (say) the Magi of Christian myth.

  • @Gibet - It's imperfect rhyme or near-rhyme. It's an old and popular poetic technique.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 13 '17 at 17:19
  • I have excised the only bit of my answer that has hitherto drawn comment--on both anti-snark and New Critical principles. Aug 14 '17 at 18:19
  • Very insightful, relating Achilles' "gold" to his choice of "undying fame". I can't say whether this was Coldplay's intention, but it strikes me as the proper understanding.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 14 '17 at 21:57

The song apparently hints at a quote which once has been popular but now is known only by classicists:

ll entreat Achilles to lend me the gold with which Hector was ransomed (Achillem orabo, aurum ut mihi det, Hector qui expensus fuit).

T. Maccius Plautus, Mercator, or The Merchant, Act 2, Scene 4

Paul Veyne, in one of his books (''Did the Greek believe their myths'', n.77), gives the line as an ironic example of something irrealistic, as we could say e.g. "I'll ask Santa for some money".


"What does the song refer to?"

It refers to the lyricist's lack of knowledge & unfamiliarity with classical Greek mythology.

I looked up the whole lyrics the whole verse is this

"I've been reading books of old The legends and the myths/ Achilles and his gold/ Hercules and his gifts/ Spiderman's control/ And Batman with his fists/ And clearly I don't see myself upon that list"

The intent of the verse is clear, the writer doesn't see himself as heroic.

But it also demonstrates unfamiliarity with the characters mentioned. What is "Spiderman's control" supposed to mean? Does the writer mean Spidey's agility, i.e. acrobatical control over his body? Or did the writer mean "self control" over emotions? The latter is not something the Spiderman character is known for.

And "Batman with his fists", while Batman is known for martial arts skills, he's much more closely associated with his detective skills & inventive gadgets.

"Hercules and his gifts" is vague & generalized.

In a later verse the writer says "Superman unrolls/ A suit before he lifts" Which doesn't really make much sense either.

So what I think it means overall, is that the writer sat down & said "I want to write about not being heroic, & if I name some popular hero characters it will make the song more popular" then he looked up some names of popular heroic characters & put them in the song without really studying much about them at all.

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    Actually, the leader of Coldplay has a degree in Ancient World Studies, with an emphasis on Greek and Roman civilizations.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 13 '17 at 19:07
  • I think you took the question too literal. What the writer means with the song is irrelevant. It's about those four specific lines, and 'Achilles and his gold' in particular. Whatever he sang about Spiderman/Superman may be an appropriate question somewhere else on the Stack Exchange network, but not on Mythology.SE.
    – Mast
    Aug 13 '17 at 19:59
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    Greek and Latin is a huge canon, and I've known people with Classics degrees with little knowledge of mythology. When Achilles withdraws from the war over his argument with Agamemnon, he is accused of cowardice. To my mind, this would seem to support the case that Achilles refusing the inducement of gold (see Brian Donovan's answer) is counter to the intended meaning of the song lyric. By the same token, "Achilles gold" may refer to his undying fame, and not base, literal gold.
    – DukeZhou
    Oct 5 '17 at 20:06

Actualy, I think it's been mixed up. Achilles had the gift of being unharmable, and Hercules had the golden fur of the Neamean lion. That's all i can think about, and I absoluetly agree, that the lyricist has a big lack of knowledge, because even if we sing it like: Hercules and his gold, Achilles and his gifts, it's still okay with the song both musicaly, rythmicaly, and even poetically.

  • That, and it is Heracles in Greek. With the mention of Achilles, one can only wonder if this was part of his lack of expertise. Nov 11 '17 at 23:03
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    @AndrewJohnson - I'm not sure how many times I have to tell people that the leader of Coldplay is trained classicist before they believe me....
    – Obie 2.0
    May 8 '18 at 17:21
  • @Obie2.0 , "Martin continued his studies at University College London (UCL), staying at Ramsay Hall, where he read Ancient World Studies and graduated with first-class honours in Greek and Latin." May 8 '18 at 17:29
  • I believe you. But just because someone is trained in something, doesn't mean they will remember it forever (my grandpa was trained for nukes and my mom for military jets/planes, don't think the recall much about those subjects). Plus, I kinda made that comment out of spite. I just hate it when people mention Hercules as Greek. If he was taking about his Roman/Latin form, I could understand the usage. May 8 '18 at 17:31

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