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Achilles


Achilles is the epic hero in Homer’s poem The Iliad. He is best known as the champion for the Greeks against the Trojans, and he was only killed when Paris shot him in the heel, the only vulnerable spot in his armor.

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Achilles was the central figure of the epic poem The Iliad by Homer. The poem begins with Achilles in the middle of a rage, because Agamemnon took his war prize, a woman named Briseis, away from him. Agamemnon’s prize had to be surrendered, because she was the daughter of a priest of Apollo, and Apollo sent a plague on the Greeks until she was freed. Achilles felt robbed and dishonored by Agamemnon’s blatant disregard for the rules of battle and spoils, and refused to fight for the Greeks anymore. In addition to his refusal, he actively prayed to the gods to make the tides of battle shift towards the Trojans. The Greeks began to take serious losses as the Trojans took advantage of their newfound luck. Just as the fighting became really bad for the Greeks, Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend, led a charge against Hector’s forces while wearing Achilles’ armor. Mistaking him for Achilles, Hector killed Patroclus in the battle, sending Achilles into a spiral of grief.

Achilles’ mother Thetis asks Hephaestus to make a special suit of armor for her son, one that would be virtually impenetrable. Along with this armor, Hephaestus fashioned a spectacular shield, known as the Shield of Achilles. In a rage and clad in his new armor, Achilles took off after Hector, chasing him around the city three times before Athena tricked Hector into stopping. Achilles and Hector fought, and Achilles killed Hector. Adding insult to injury, Achilles defiled Greek custom by dragging Hector’s behind his chariot as he boasted his victory. A few days later, aided by Hermes, King Priam succeeded in getting Achilles to give him his son’s body back.

The most popular version of the Achilles myth describes Achilles as running into a great or final battle against the Trojans, usually after the gates were opened by the soldiers hiding in the horse. As he attempted to enter the city, he was shot by an arrow in the heel—the only vulnerable part of his special armor—by Paris of Troy. The arrow was poisoned, and it ultimately killed the hero. This point of vulnerability in Achilles’ armor has worked its way into the modern vernacular, where someone’s “Achilles’ heel” is their weakness. In other versions, Thetis had held Achilles by the foot and dipped him into the River Styx to make him invulnerable. She was successful, but his heel was his one weakness.

Some later accounts of the Achilles legend add that Achilles was married to Medea.


Achilles Hero Reference

Parents

Peleus and Thetis


Notable Myths

  • Dipping in the River Styx
  • The Iliad
  • Death by Paris

Symbols / Attributes

  • Shield of Achilles
  • Golden Armor
  • Arrow in the heel

Companions

Medea, Briseis


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