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In Greek Myth, Who is Achilles?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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In Greek myth, Achilles is the legendary but reluctant warrior who fought in the Trojan War. His mother, Thetis, who dipped him in the river Styx after he was born, rendered him nearly impervious to harm by this action. However, she had to hold onto his heel in order to retrieve him from the water, thus missing a spot. The only way Achilles could be killed was by injury to his heel. This leads to the now famous expression, "Achilles’ heel," meaning a person’s major weak point.

The story of Achilles figures largely in Homer’s Iliad. He is first introduced as having withdrawn from the war in a fight with Agamemnon over the capture of several Trojan women. It is important to understand his reluctance to engage in the battle. It is prophesied before Achilles leaves for Troy that he will die there. Thus he is necessarily loath to take part in the battle in any case.

However, the quarrel is forgotten after the Trojans kill the best friend of Achilles, Patroclus. The death spurs him to action and he rushes to battle, with great might and purpose. He kills Hector, but is then killed by Paris, thus fulfilling the prophecy regarding his fate.

Achilles also meets with Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey and in lengthy speech declaims the war and places value on how much more important life is than valor. It is a suitably tragic statement and may have been inspired by Homer’s observation that, while warfare existed somewhat constantly, some men simply did not want to participate.

Some analysts of mythology have claimed that Achilles’ real "heel" is pride, friendship, or anger. Had his anger not been provoked by the death of Patroclus, he might not have rushed into battle. However, others point to the story of Achilles as yet another lesson of fate as understood by the Greeks. Like Oedipus, he rushes toward a fate that is not within his control. He cannot escape from his destiny, anymore than Oedipus can escape from the horrible act of slaying his father and marrying his mother.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By BioNerd — On Jan 20, 2011

The fight between Agamemnon and Achilles was over the maiden Briseis. In those patriarchal times, women were often seen as war-spoils, and figures were able to argue over them without hearing their own input. Agamemnon had tried to steal the daughter of a priest of Apollo and was required to give her up. To compensate for his seemingly unjust loss, he demanded Achilles lover.

By FitzMaurice — On Jan 19, 2011

Achilles spoke a moral story to the Greeks who would have read it. They could identify with the sentiments of Achilles, and the story serves as a warning that letting your anger lead to war and murder would result in death. Tales such as these helped to unite the Greek people over time and against common enemies from abroad.

By BigBloom — On Jan 17, 2011

Sad fate for the hero Achilles to be killed by a coward like Paris after having killed so many brave soldiers. His is the fate of the typical exalted hero who meets with deep injustice. This makes him a very relatable character in the Iliad. In other works of literature, however, he is portrayed in a much more ethereal light, sort of like a god.

By Qohe1et — On Jan 15, 2011

Achilles suffered from a large amount of hubris, which is a common trend among mythological heroes. This strong energy and pride of his is what both kept him from fighting in the first place and which also drove him to fight and die. He was upset with the Greek King Agamemnon for his injustice and chose to sulk in his tent. When his best friend was murdered, this same moody attitude drove him to slaughter the arrogant Hector and drag his body in circles around Troy.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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