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Achilles Achilles

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The greatest of the Achaic (Greek) heroes in the battle of Troy, early 12th century BC.

Biography of Achilles Achilles

Achilles was immortalised by Homer in the Iliad as the bravest, handsomest, and greatest warrior of the army of Agamemnon in the Trojan War.

He was the son of Peleus, king of the Myrmidons, a tribe in Thessalia, and the Nereid, or sea nymph, Thetis. According to Homer, Achilles was brought up by his mother at Phthia with his cousin and inseparable companion Patroclus. There are two versions of the story of Thetis’ attempt to make her son immortal. In the earlier version, Thetis anointed the infant with ambrosia and then placed him upon a fire to burn away his mortal portions. Peleus interrupted her, whereupon she abandoned both father and son in a rage. Peleus placed the child in the care of the Centaur Chiron, who raised and educated the boy. In the later version, she held the young Achilles by the heel and dipped him in the river Styx, the border to the under world. Everything the sacred waters touched became invulnerable, but the heel remained dry and therefore unprotected.

When Achilles was a boy, the seer Calchas prophesied that the city of Troy could not be taken without his help. Thetis knew that, if her son went to Troy, he would die an early death, so she sent him to the court of Lycomedes’ daughter, Deidameia, and she had a son, Pyrrhus (or Neoptolemus) by him. Achilles’ disguise was finally penetrated by Odysseus, who placed arms and armor amidst a display of women’s finery and seized upon Achilles when he was the only “maiden” to be fascinated by the swords and shields. Achilles then went willingly with Odysseus to Troy, leading a host of his father’s Myrmidons and accompanied by his tutor Phoenix and his close friend Patroclus.

During the first nine years of the war, Achilles had ravaged the country around Troy and took 12 cities. When Homer begins the Iliad approximately in the ninth year of the war, a quarrel with Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and head of the Achaic warriors, occurred when Achilles insisted that Agamemnon restore Chryseis, his prize of war, to her father, a priest of Apollo, so as to appease the wrath of Apollo, who had decimated the camp with a pestilence. An irate Agamemnon recouped his loss by depriving Achilles of his favourite slave, Briseis.

Achilles refused further service, and consequently the Greeks floundered so badly that at last Achilles allowed Patroclus to impersonate him, lending him his chariot and armour. Hector, the eldest son of King Priam of Troy, slew Patroclus, and Achilles, having finally reconciled with Agamemnon, obtained new armour from the god Hephaestus and slew Hector. After dragging Hector’s body behind his chariot, Achilles gave it to Priam at his earnest entreaty. The Iliad concludes with the funeral rites of Hector. It makes no mention of the death of Achilles, though the Odyssey mentions his funeral. The poet Arctinus in his Aethiopis took up the story of the Iliad and related that Achilles, having slain the Ethiopian king Memnon and the Amazon, Penthelisea, was himself slain in battle by Priam’s son Paris, whose arrow was guided by Apollo.

The idea of the Trojan horse stems with Odysseus and is described by Homer in his book of the same name.

The terms achillobursitis, achillodynia, achillorraphy, achillotenotomy and achillotomy are also dervied from the name of our ancient hero.

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