ACHILLES

Achilles, the great warrior of Greek mythology, was the hero of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The Greeks revered him for his strength and courage in battle. The story of Achilles’ daring exploits at Troy provides much of the action in Homer’s Iliad.

Achilles was the son of King Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis. Predictions had been made that Achilles would die in battle at Troy, but Thetis tried to change his fate. To protect her son, she dipped him in the River Styx of the underworld*. Only one spot—the heel by which she held Achilles—remained unprotected. The modern expression “Achilles’ heel” thus refers to a person’s area of vulnerability or weakness.

When the Trojan War began, Thetis tried to hide Achilles. She disguised him as a young girl and sent him to another kingdom. But her plan failed. Knowing of Achilles’ great skills as a warrior, the Greeks sent one of their leaders, Odysseus, to search for him. Odysseus pretended to be a merchant and showed pieces of jewelry and other ornaments to the women at court. Among the ornaments, he had placed some weapons. When Achilles admired the weapons, Odysseus identified him immediately and convinced him to join the Greek forces.

In the midst of the Trojan War, Achilles—known for his temper- had a bitter argument with Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces. Feeling dishonored, Achilles absolutely refused to continue fighting. But this headstrong warrior also displayed great loyalty. When his good friend Patroclus died fighting the Trojan prince Hector, Achilles rushed back into battle to seek revenge. Achilles killed Hector and then tied the body to his chariot and dragged it back to the Greek camp. As predicted, Achilles met his own death in battle at Troy—wounded in the heel by an arrow shot from the bow of the Trojan prince Paris. (See also Iliad; Myths, Greek.)

* underworld kingdom of the dead; also called Hades

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