A-Z: General definitions: Achilles


Achilles was the son of Peleus, a mortal, and Thetis, the sea-goddess. Thetis wanted to make her son immortal, so she put him in fire at night and poured ambrosia on him during the day. But Peleus saw her one night, and stopped her. Thetis then left her husband and child and returned to the sea. A later version says that Thetis dipped Achilles into the River Styx to make him immortal, but in doing so, she had to hold on to him by his heel. This left this part of his body mortal: hence the phrase 'Achilles' heel' came to mean someone's weak point. Peleus asked Cheiron the centaur to bring up his son. He learned medicine, music and skills in hunting, and became a very fast runner. On his return to his home, he met his next tutor, Phoenix and his future closest friend, Patroclus, who were now living at court.

In the tenth year of the Trojan War, Agamemnon had to give up Chryseis his concubine, because Apollo was angry with him. In his anger, Agamemnon took Achilles' own concubine Briseis, whom he loved dearly. In revenge, Achilles refused to fight, appealing to Zeus through his mother Thetis to make the Trojans so successful that the Greeks would need Achilles. Achilles' friends begged him to return, but he refused. In the end, Patroclus himself tried, asking Achilles at least to allow him to wear his armour while he led Achilles' men. Achilles agreed, telling his friend only to force the Greeks back to their ships. Patroclus did this, but then continued fighting. Hector killed Patroclus, and Achilles was heartbroken. He was determined to avenge his friend's death, even though Thetis warned him his own death would follow soon after Hector's. Returning to the battle in fury, Achilles killed many Trojans, before killing Hector. Not satisfied with this, he dragged the body behind his chariot, even after giving Patroclus full burial rites, for many days. Finally, Priam came to him at night to beg for the return of his son's body. Achilles at last came to terms with what he had done, and returned the body for burial.

Related Topics

Patroclus; Priam

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