Who was Achilles in Greek Mythology?

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on August 1 2017 in Society

A statue of Wounded Achilles sits in the Garden of Achillion on Corfu Island, Greece.
A statue of Wounded Achilles sits in the Garden of Achillion on Corfu Island, Greece.

Achilles was a great, courageous, and loyal hero in Greek mythology who participated in the Trojan War. The accounts of Achilles’ life are recorded in the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey. According to legend, heaven had already sealed Achilles fate and it was said he would die young. However, some accounts state that Achilles would live a long, unadventurous, and quiet life. Achilles lived the latter.

Early Life

Achilles was born to Peleus, an old mortal king of the Myrmidons and Thetis, an immortal Nereid. According to legend, Thetis sought to immortalize by burning his body and dipping him in the River Styx. However, she held his heel so tightly that it remained vulnerable since water did not touch it. At the age of nine, Thetis disguised Achilles as a girl before sending him to live on the island of Skyros. Some accounts state that Peleus was responsible though all hold that the reason behind his transportation was fear he would die in battle as predicted in Calchas’ prophecy. Achilles grew up alongside his cousin and close companion – Patroclus.

Achilles in Skyros

Left without any other choice to alter the fate of his son, Thetis disguised him as a girl and sent him to King Lycomedes as Achilles’ sister. During his stay at Skyros, Achilles raped Deidamia, the King’s (Lycomedes) daughter, and fathered a son- Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus). Odysseus cunningly revealed Achilles’ identity by disguising himself as a merchant and put an arrow in Achilles goods. Achilles exposed himself by picking the spear first. Some accounts also state that Odysseus used a trumpet to which Achilles’ response resembled that of one ready for battle- thus exposing himself as a man and not a woman.

Trojan War

The Trojan War is believed to have started as a revenge mission against Troy by Menelaus. According to legend, the goddess of strife and discord caused a conflict between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite which triggered the war. The three warring goddesses sought the help of Paris in deciding who amongst them was the fairest. Aphrodite bribed Paris by making Helen, Menelaus’ wife, fall in love with him. The Trojan War to recover Helen lasted ten years.

Achilles in the Trojan War

Odysseus recognized the importance of Achilles in winning the Trojan War and returning Helen to her husband. He sought for Achilles' whereabouts and convinced him to join the war. Achilles led his army for nine years capturing 12 cities. Later in the tenth year, Agamemnon took Achilles concubine, an act that Achilles saw as a humiliation. Achilles withdrew from the battle. His friend Patroclus begged to join the war as Achilles. Hector killed Patroclus prompting Achilles to return to the battlefield on a revenge mission. Achilles killed Hector and humiliated him even in death by dragging his body behind his chariot through the city.

Achilles Heel

Achilles heel was the point of vulnerability in Achilles body, which caused his death. Achilles died after his left, vulnerable heel was shot with a poisoned arrow. Various reports have different accounts of his death and killer; however, all maintain that either Apollo or Paris killed him. In modern times, the term “Achilles heel” refers to a person’s weakness, which is often fatal.

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