Its extant 1200 lines narrate how the goddess Thetis, anxious that her son should not fulfill his fate to die at Troy, whisks the adolescent away from his foster home with the centaur Chiron and secretes him on the island of Scyros among the maidens of King Lycomedes' court, disguised as a girl.
Peter Heslin's extensive 2005 monograph finally provided an in-depth study of the main subject of the epic, the temporary transvestism of Achilles on Scyros, its significance for the literary figure of Achilles and for the generic identity of the poem.
hoc excusabitur ense Scyros et indecores, Fatorum crimina, cultus.
On Scyros, Thetis attempts to coax her boy into assuming feminine raiment by comparing several mythological characters who experienced gender transformation: Hercules, who dressed as a woman as a servant of Queen Omphale, the androgynous god Bacchus, Jupiter, who disguised himself as Diana when in pursuit of Callisto, and Caeneus / Caenis.
Ovid's version of the rape in the Ars Amatoria is the only extant literary treatment of Achilles on Scyros before Statius:
On Scyros, Statius has attenuated the "barrier" between the lover and the fulfillment of his desire to the extent that it is only Achilles' "female" body that prevents them from enjoying each others' full presence.
The dynamic of concealment and display that characterises the entire Scyros episode intensifies when Ulysses first arrives on the island in search of Achilles and penetrates the feminine milieu, piercing all of its inner chambers with his unadulterated male gaze, probing for a "girl" with an ambiguous physique (742-749; 761-766; 794-796).
Achilles' gender is represented as irreducibly biological and material (his performance as a girl leaves a lot to be desired, his masculinity constantly about to rupture his disguise), yet at other times his gender appears to be constructed and determined by external or social forces (Thetis' clothing and the girlish environment of Scyros feminise Achilles, while the armour and influence of Ulysses push him towards masculinity).
22) Hinds 2000:237 highlights the double irony: "In fact, with a degree of mannerism that shows Statius at his most thoroughly post-Ovidian, Scyros in the Achilleid is persistently the land not just of gender- (and genre-) bending imagery, but of the bending of gender- (and genre-) bending imagery".