Achilles

Achilles

Achilles is one of the most famous heroes of Greek Mythology. He was the mightiest of the Greeks who fought in the Trojan War, and was the hero of Homer's Iliad.


Achilles sword from the Trojan War


Black figured Attic amphora
Ajax and Achilles play some kind of board game during a break of the Trojan war.
About 520 BC. Boston Museum, USA.

Early years

Achilles' father was Peleus, king of Pthia in Thessaly, Greece and leader of the warrior tribe of the Myrmidons. Her mother was goddess Thetis, daughter of sea-god Oceanus.
Legend says that Achilles' mother wanted to make him immortal by dipping him in the sacred river Styx. However, he was left vulnerable at the part of the body by which she held him, his heel.
Peleus later entrusted Achilles to Chiron the Centaur, on Mt. Pelion, to be reared. There Achilles mastered the arts of hunting, horse taming and medicine. He also learned how to sing and play the lyre.
Chiron taught him the ancient virtues of defying pain, enduring hardship and being oblivious to material possessions and wealth.

Trojan War

In order to keep Achilles safe from the war, Thetis hid the young man at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. There, Achilles disguised as a girl and lived among Lycomedes' daughters, under the name "Pyrrha" (the red-haired girl).

With Lycomedes' daughter Deidamia, Achilles there fathers a son, Neoptolemus (also called Pyrrhus, after his father's possible alias). Odysseus learned from the prophet Calchas that the Achaeans would be unable to capture Troy without Achilles' aid. Odysseus went to Skyros in the guise of a peddler selling women's clothes and jewelry and placed a shield and spear among his goods. When Achilles instantly took up the spear, Odysseus saw through his disguise and convinced him to join the Greek campaign.Achilles then left with 50 ships from Phthia to join the Greek fleet stationed in Aulis, ready to sail to Troy.

The Triumph of Achilles bas relief

At Troy, Achilles distinguished himself as an undefeatable warrior. Among his other exploits, he captured twenty-three towns in Trojan territory, including the town of Lyrnessos, where he took the woman Briseis as a war-prize. Later on Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, was forced by an oracle of Apollo to give up his own war-prize, the woman Chryseis, and took Briseis away from Achilles as compensation for his loss. This action sparked the central plot of the Iliad, for Achilles became enraged and refused to fight for the Greeks any further.

The war went badly, and the Greeks offered handsome reparations to their greatest warrior; Achilles still refused to fight in person, but he agreed to allow his friend Patroclus to fight in his place, wearing his armor. The next day Patroclus was killed and stripped of the armor by the Trojan hero Hector, who mistook him for Achilles.


Achilles Full Size helmet

Black figured amphora
Achilles killing the Queen
of the Amazons, Penthesilea.
530 BC. British Museum, London.

Achilles was overwhelmed with grief for his friend and rage at Hector. His mother obtained magnificent new armor for him from Hephaestus, and he returned to the fighting and killed Hector. He desecrated the body, dragging it behind his chariot before the walls of Troy, and refused to allow it to receive funeral rites.

When Priam, the king of Troy and Hector's father, came secretly into the Greek camp to plead for the body, Achilles finally relented; in one of the most moving scenes of the Iliad, he received Priam graciously and allowed him to take the body away.

Achilles's death

After the death of Hector, Achilles' days were numbered. He continued fighting heroically, killing many of the Trojans and their allies, including Memnon and the Amazon warrior Penthesilia. Finally Priam's son Paris, aided by Apollo, wounded Achilles in the heel with an arrow; Achilles died of the wound. After his death, it was decided to award Achilles' divinely-wrought armor to the bravest of the Greeks.

Odysseus and Ajax competed for the prize, with each man making a speech explaining why he deserved the honor; Odysseus won, and Ajax then went mad and committed suicide.


Achilles wounded


Source: Wikipedia, Pierre Grimal - Dictionnaire de la Mythologie Greque, Encyclopedia Mythica

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