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I'm trying to juxtapose antonyms in a effort to describe something.

The first draft of an excerpt reads something like this:

I will tell of their triumphs and downfalls...

I would like to communicate a slightly more antiquated feel, however.

So I began to revise it:

I will tell of their Achilles heel, and ___ .

And that's where I became stuck.

I definitely want to use 'Achilles heel', and I like the antiquated and archaic tone that it implies. The issue is that I'm having trouble finding a suitable opposing idiom.

I would like something that mirrors the triumphs/downfalls relationship, but matches the tone I'm trying to achieve with 'Achilles heel'.

Is there such a phrase that I can use?

Edit: I seem to have done a poor job of explaining the comparison I was trying to achieve.

A better way to describe it is that because I perceive 'Achilles heel' as connoting the subject's fatal flaw, I would like to find an antonym that describes or expresses my subject's contrasting unique advantage, ability or power.

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    That depends on which parts of Achilles' body were sposta be involved in the triumphs beind described. If you're gonna stick with the story, read Homer to find out. If you're not, get your metaphor straight. The throat (and speech organs generally) are physically at the other end of the body from the heel, for instance; the genitals are midway up. You could say Achilles' roundheel, maybe. – John Lawler Feb 28 '15 at 16:34
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    The heel was not so much Achilles' weakness as his vulnerability, so you can try to imagine some quality of your character that remains more or less invulnerable to injury or corruption. – user98990 Feb 28 '15 at 18:08
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    You'd need to know a lot of Greek Mythology to find a direct counterpoint. A close one would be the Labors of Hercules, which were an almost inconceivable triumph, but metaphors fall apart if they're used too... literally. – anongoodnurse Feb 28 '15 at 21:00
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    @LittleEva - you have made another good point. His weakness was his prideful wish for glory, which made him do stupid things (like desecrating Hector's body). His pride was his downfall, his heel was just the means. – anongoodnurse Feb 28 '15 at 21:07
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    "in Achilles Heel I see a subject's Fatal Flaw, and that's what I would wish to contrast with..." Right, and as medica mentions, that fatal, tragic flaw is a "hubris" he simply can't find his way around. That overweening pride is presented metaphorically as a part of Achilles' anatomy (a facet of "A" he cannot separate himself from). In the case of your story, what could be the opposite of that false pride? – user98990 Mar 1 '15 at 1:43

12 Answers 12

9

There isn't a well known antonym for 'Achilles heel'. While there may be something in Greek mythology, it would not have the same widespread cultural understanding as Achilles heel. You could still have something like:

I will tell of their conquests and Achilles heel.

In lieu of conquests you could also use things like triumphs, victories, successes, or maybe focus on a specific aspect of their character? Here you could use something like Herculean strength or cunning wit. It is hard to give too specific of an example without understanding what we are describing/foreshadowing.

Just make sure that when using the phrase 'Achilles heel' they have one very specific weakness. If someone/thing is toppled by a series of unfortunate events it would be fine to describe that as a downfall but wrong to describe that as an Achilles heel.

9

Like most people, Achilles had two heels. But his were of different interest to posterity. The one that gets all the attention is the one his mother Thetis held him by while dipping him (as a baby) into the River Styx; the other was the one that (along with the rest of his exterior) touched the waters during his immersion and thereby became invulnerable. In one sense, then, it is hard to come up with a more suitable and exact antonym for "Achilles' [vulnerable] heel" than "Achilles' other heel."

Regrettably, there appears to be no consensus about whether the vulnerable heel was the right one or the left one. This explains why, in the illustrations accompanying the Wikipedia article on Achilles' heel, the painting by Rubens shows him being held by the left heel, while the statue of Achilles dying shows him grasping the shaft of a spear projecting from his right heel. If Homer had been more specific, we might now be able to use the clear antonyms "Achilles' left heel" and "Achilles' right heel."

Instead we have to find the figurative opposite of "Achilles' heel" elsewhere—perhaps in the form of the invulnerable part of something otherwise all too vulnerable, such as "France's Maginot Line." But that doesn't make a good pairing in the OP's original wording:

I will tell of their Achilles' heel, and their Maginot Line.

Nor for that matter does the example of complete physical invulnerability that the Good Witch of the North's kiss gives Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz fit the bill, despite the fact that being completely invulnerable certainly constitutes a fundamental contrary to being vulnerable in only one place. It just doesn't work as part of a pairing of metaphors:

I will tell of their Achilles' heel, and their Good Witch of the North–kissed forehead.

The problem, as my two attempts to complete the pairing that the OP seeks demonstrate, is that bringing together a metaphor from a Greek myth and a metaphor from any other specific but unrelated source is like hitching a mule and an ox to a plow: They don't work well together. I recommend minimizing the contrast between "Achilles' heel" and whatever you pair it with by making the other element as nonspecific and nonallusive as possible. For example:

I will tell of their greatest strength and their Achilles' heel.

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    +1, that's a multiple riot! But I agree with you that all these attempts fail as forced. A metaphor doesn't have its intended effect if it's transparent. Instead it must be so subtly and seamlessly integrated with the tale that it has the time to work on subconscious levels. Homer didn't announce that Achilles' heel (whichever heel that was) was a metaphor representing hubris, if he had he'd have turned a tragedy into a fable, and that would have been the real tragedy. – user98990 Mar 1 '15 at 2:47
  • From your posting I assume that — just like Mari-Lou A — you too are neither a geek nor a nerd. :) – Erik Kowal Mar 1 '15 at 6:00
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    You are correct, Erik. But I do sometimes dream of modernizing The Iliad: "Sing, o Muse, of the Maginot Line of Achilles..." – Sven Yargs Mar 1 '15 at 7:10
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    I eagerly await your description of Hector futilely manning his machine-gun post and scanning the horizon for the hostile Germans, unaware that they are already entering Troyes through an abandoned wood-lined metro tunnel that even Paris had forgotten all about. – Erik Kowal Mar 1 '15 at 9:57
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    Or as I would designate him, "password-protected Hector," of "strong-firewalled Ilium." And then of course there's the "Trojan-horse Trojan Horse." – Sven Yargs Mar 1 '15 at 17:00
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I would consider strong suit as a figurative phrase like Achilles' heel to convey the opposite meaning. There doesn't seem like an antiquated-sounding or mythological phrase for a strong point. Another similar phrase is long suit but it is less common.

fig., as (one's) strong suit: something at which one excels. Also strong card, a particular advantage or forte. colloq. [OED]

There are many examples that you can find that the opposite phrases are used together:

Remember when foreign policy was Obama’s strong suit? Not anymore.

Even before the deteriorating situation in Iraq, foreign policy was starting to become an Achilles heel for President Obama.

[washingtonpost]


The survey and the experiment are best viewed as complements. One method's strong suit is the other's Achilles heel. At bottom, survey research typically is strong at external validity, whereas experimental research is strong at internal validity.

Nothing to Read: Newspapers and Elections in a Social Experiment By Jeffery J. Mondak

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    A reference to contract bridge? This is the most appalling mixed metaphor on this page, and the one I'd be most embarrassed to explain to an ancient Greek. – Beta Mar 1 '15 at 18:48
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    @Beta: Don't worry. You'll never need to. – ermanen Mar 2 '15 at 3:02
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    While this idiom may come from whist and bridge, it has become part of the general lexicon. Non-bridge players understand it fully, and may not even realize its origin. Sports fans probably don't realize that "grand slam" originated in bridge as well. – Barmar Mar 2 '15 at 19:51
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How about" I will tell of their Hercules' hand and their Achilles' heel" or if you will " I will tell of their Hercules' hands and their Achilles' heels."

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    OP asks 'Is there such a phrase that I can use?' There is no record of this phrase ever having been used. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 28 '15 at 20:54
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    Not a bad option (+1), but perhaps "Herculean hand" parses better. – Sparhawk Feb 28 '15 at 21:52
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    Herculean strength might be better. But I am not convinced that the mixing of metaphors makes for a good end product. – WS2 Mar 1 '15 at 0:49
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    True 'there is no record of this phrase ever having been used' but the good OP is asking us fellow members for a helpful answer, " I definitely want to use 'Achilles heel', and I like the antiquated and archaic tone that it implies. The issue is that I'm having trouble finding a suitable opposing idiom." – sojourner Mar 2 '15 at 5:47
  • @neuronet True as well.That's why I gave brother WS2 +1 for ' I am not convinced that the mixing of metaphors makes for a good end product.' – sojourner Mar 2 '15 at 5:50
2

Maybe their forté? I don't know if that gets the feeling you wanted though.

2

I will tell of their Achilles heels and the Mercurial footwear used in compensation for these failings.

Keeping within the realm of mythology and foot fetishes, I'm referring to the winged shoes Perseus was given by Hermes. -Mercurial footwear is my own construction; I doubt many know what a pair of Talaria is.

2

If you want to stick to the Greeks, I suggest "I will tell of their Achilles heel as well as their Ajax spear." (Ajax plays an important role in Homer's Iliad)

  • In Book 15, Hector is restored to his strength by Apollo and returns to attack the ships. Ajax, wielding an enormous spear as a weapon and leaping from ship to ship, holds off the Trojan armies virtually single-handedly. Wikipedia
  • Would people unfamiliar with the Iliad understand this reference? – Barmar Mar 2 '15 at 19:53
  • @Barmar Of course not. That's why I've included a brief account of Ajax's deeds. – Centaurus Mar 2 '15 at 22:50
  • That's useful for us, but not helpful for the readers of the OP's document. Do you expect him to add that as a footnote to explain what he wrote? – Barmar Mar 2 '15 at 22:51
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I will tell of their Achilles' heel and (Thor's) Mjolnir

For anyone who is an avid reader of Marvel comic books the term Mjolnir will be familiar; not only is it a mythological weapon, it is indestructible.

Mjolnir (/ˈmjɒln(i)ər/ myol-n(ee)r) is a fictional weapon that appears in publications from Marvel Comics. It is the favored weapon of the superhero Thor. [...] The hammer's name translates as "The Crusher" or "The Grinder." [...]

Mjolnir itself has several enchantments: no living being may lift the hammer unless they are worthy; it returns to the exact spot from which it is thrown and returns to Thor when summoned; it may summon the elements of storm (lightning, wind, and rain) by stamping its handle twice on the ground; manipulate the weather on an almost global scale; open interdimensional portals, allowing its wielder to travel to other dimensions (such as from Earth to Asgard); and transform Thor into the guise of a mortal, the physician Donald Blake, by stamping the hammer's head on the ground once. When Thor transforms into Blake, his hammer takes the appearance of a wooden walking stick.

for those who are into Norse mythology, they will recognize the term as being the hammer of Thor, the god of thunder

Mjölnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome weapons, capable of leveling mountains

Then he gave the hammer to Thor, and said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand; and if be desired, he might keep it in his sark, it was so small; but indeed it was a flaw in the hammer that the fore-haft was somewhat short.

You have to be quite geeky or nerdy to know what a Mjölnir is or was, but that might be to the Op's advantage. If on the other hand the OP doesn't want his readers rushing off to Wikipedia then I'd suggest writing: Thor's hammer

I am neither a geek nor a nerd but I do like watching The Big Bang Theory and there was an episode dedicated to this magical weapon.

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    Good one! I would be reluctant, though, to pair Greek myth with Norse myth, unless the paper were on mythology. – anongoodnurse Mar 1 '15 at 3:10
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I will tell you not only of their Titan-like strength/s, but also of their vulnerabilities; from their Herculean muscles right down to their Achilles' heels.

1

The term 'Achilles heel' has two distinct connotations in the context of the eponymous character portrayed in Homer's Iliad.

The first connotation, of an ultimately fatal physically unprotected spot, relates to a literal vulnerability.

The second connotation relates to a moral deficiency — specifically, obstinate pride and hubris — and is abstract.

Your question states,

"...because I perceive 'Achilles heel' as connoting the subject's fatal flaw, I would like to find an antonym that describes or expresses my subject's contrasting unique advantage, ability or power".

Now, your question does not make explicit whether you are thinking primarily of your subject's physical characteristics or their moral ones.

As each of those connotations would require a correspondingly different antonym, for the physical vulnerability I would suggest something like 'physically invulnerable attributes' or 'the things that made them physically powerful'.

For the moral deficiency, suitable antonyms might be 'moral virtue', 'moral strength(s)' or 'personal integrity'.

It might be worth postponing the selection of an appropriate expression until after you have developed your story more fully.

That will enable you to tailor it to the most salient emergent characteristics of the individual in question, and also allows for the possibility that your conception of their persona could change as your draft progresses.

1

Achilles' Shield!

There's lots of details in Homer about how intricately-wrought and durable and resilient was his shield. If the heel is his weakest part, then his shield is surely the strongest as a point withstanding attack. More metaphorically, it can describe the favor of the gods which he (mostly) entertained.

... and it's a near-rhyme to boot! It's beautiful.

IIRC, the shield was manufactured by the god Hephaestus with his walking tripods <-- that's right: frickin' robots in Ancient Greece.

0

I don't see the story of Achilles' as either a triumph or a downfall, but more of a tragedy. Your context is undefined, so I feel unable to answer further, however you might look at the story of Achilles' and observe that he was killed by an arrow from Paris during the Trojan War, amongst other things that could be said about Achilles'. An antonym to his mother's failure to completely immerse him in the River Styx is not necessarily achievable.

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    How does this answer the question? – Scimonster Feb 28 '15 at 19:40
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    @Scimonster: sometimes, a good answer is to take a step back and highlight that there's a problem in the question itself. – Denis de Bernardy Feb 28 '15 at 19:46
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    You're being waaaay too literal (I think). I've read both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and still am able to understand "Achilles' heel" as both the tragic vulnerability it was, and the weakness our culture attributes to the metaphor. (btw, there's no apostrophe after Achilles.) – anongoodnurse Feb 28 '15 at 20:51
  • @medica Though the apostrophe is optional in Achilles' heel. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 28 '15 at 20:57
  • @EdwinAshworth - I would always use the apostrophe myself for his heel, but not while simply discussing Achilles, as JMP is doing. – anongoodnurse Feb 28 '15 at 21:04

protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 19:45

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