Achilles (Greek: Ἀχιλλεύς, transl.: Achilléus), in Greek mythology, was a hero of Greece, one of the participants in the Trojan War and the protagonist and greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.
Achilles also has the characteristic of being blond and the most beautiful of the heroes gathered against Troy, as well as the best among them. The figure of Achilles has been shaped by various authors over a span of a thousand years, which explains his various contradictions.
The best known is the one that says that Achilles was invulnerable throughout his body by bathing in the River Styx, except for his heel (according to a poem by Estancius in the 1st century).
According to these versions of his myth, his death was caused by a poisoned arrow that hit him exactly in this part of his body, unprotected by his armor. The expression "Achilles' heel", which indicates a person's main weakness, has its origin there.
The literary (and artistic) works in which Achilles appears as a hero are abundant. Besides the Iliad and the Odyssey - where the fate of Achilles after his death is shown - one can also highlight the tragedy Iphigenia in Aulid, by Euripides, later "imitated" by the French playwright Jean Racine (1674) and made into an opera by the German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck (1774),
as well as the fine arts, where one can find, in addition to the many vase paintings and sculptures from the Classical Antiquity period itself, canvases by Peter Paul Rubens, David Teniers the Younger, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and many others depicting his many exploits.
Achilles' name can be interpreted as a combination of ἄχος (achos), "mourning" and λαός (laos), "people," "tribe," "nation," etc. In other words, Achilles would be a personification of the people's mourning, mourning being one of the themes that is raised many times in the Iliad (many of them by Achilles himself). Achilles' role as a hero of mourning thus forms an ironic contrast to the conventional view, which presents him as a hero of kleos ("glory," especially in war).
Laos has been interpreted as "a body of soldiers"; in this sense, the name would have a double meaning, in the poem; when the hero acts in the right way, his men bring grief to the enemy; in the wrong way, it is his men who feel the grief and pain of war. The poem speaks, in part, about the misdirection of anger by leaders.
The name Achilleus became a common and present name among the Greeks from the early 7th century BCE. It was transformed to the feminine form Ἀχιλλεία (Achilleía), first attested in Attica in the 4th century BCE, and Achillia, found on a relief from Halicarnassus as the name of a gladiator fighting Amazonia ("Amazons").
Roman gladiatorial games often revered classical mythology, and this seems to be a reference to Achilles' fight against the Amazon queen Pentesileia, with a curious twist of showing the hero in the form of a woman.
Achilles was the son of the Nereid Tethis and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons. Tethis was one of several daughters of Nereus and Doris, and Peleus was the son of Aeacus and Endeis.
Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals for the hand of Tethis until Prometheus, the one responsible for bringing fire to humans, warned Zeus of a prophecy that Tethis would give birth to a son even greater than his father. For this reason, the two gods gave up courting her, and made her marry Peleus.
As in much of Greek mythology, there is a version of the legend that offers an alternate version of these events: in the Argonautics, Hera alludes to Thetis' chaste resistance to Zeus' advances, and that Thetis would have been so loyal to Hera's matrimonial ties that she coldly rejected him.
According to a fragment of an Achilleis - the Achilliad, written by Estancius in the 1st century, i.e. almost a thousand years after the Iliad - when Achilles was born, Thetis is said to have tried to make him immortal by immersing him in the river Styx; she left him, however, vulnerable in the part of the body by which she held him, his heel (see Achilles' heel, Achilles' tendon).
It is not clear, however, whether this version of the myth was known previously. It is certain, however, that Homer in the 9th-VIII centuries B.C. was unaware of it, and also Ovid in the 1st century B.C. In another version, Thetis anointed her son with ambrosia and placed him over the fire, so that his mortal parts could be burned; she was interrupted by Peleus, however, and eventually abandoned father and son, furious.
None of the sources prior to Estacius, however, make any reference to this physical invulnerability of the character; on the contrary, in the Iliad itself Homer describes Achilles being wounded: in book 21 Asteropeus, the hero Peonius, son of Pelago, challenges Achilles on the banks of the river Scamander; he throws two spears at once, one of which strikes Achilles' heel, "drawing a gush of blood."
Also in the fragments of poems of the Epic Cycle where the descriptions of the hero's death can be found, Cypria (of unknown authorship), Aetiopida (by Arctinus), the Little Iliad (by Lesco of Mithilene), among others, there is no indication or reference to his invulnerability or to his famous weak point in the heel; in the later vase paintings depicting Achilles' death, the arrow (or, in many cases, the arrows) strike him in the body.
Peleus entrusted Achilles to Chiron, the centaur, on Mount Pelion, to be raised there. At the same time, he initiated him into the rough life, in contact with nature; he exercised him in hunting, in training horses, in medicine, in music, and above all, he forced him to practice virtue. Achilles became a very handsome teenager, blond, bright-eyed, intrepid, simultaneously capable of the greatest tenderness and the greatest violence.
Peleus also gave his son a second preceptor, Phoenix, a man of great wisdom, who instructed the prince in the arts of oratory and warfare. Along with Achilles, his friend, Patroclus, son of the king of Locida, Menecius, was educated.
Achilles at King Lycomedes' court
The diviner Calcas had declared, when Achilles was nine years old, that Troy could only be taken with Achilles' help. Thetis had a feeling that Achilles would die in the war. Terrified, Thetis arranged to disguise her son as a woman and sent him to the court of King Lycomedes on the island of Esquiro, so that he could be educated in the gynecium with the king's virgin daughters, disguised under the name Pirra ("blonde" or "redhead").
Meanwhile, the Greeks sent Odysseus as an ambassador to Peleus' court, in order to have him bring the indispensable Achilles, but since the latter was not found, they turned to Calcas, who revealed the hoax to them. Odysseus then disguised himself as a merchant and went to the palace of Lycomedes, gaining entrance to the gynecium.
He displayed, before the amazed eyes of the princesses, the richest ornaments; among the cloth and jewelry, however, were hidden a shield and a spear. Odysseus sounded the trumpet of war, when the would-be Pirra ran to arm herself, revealing herself. Achilles then agrees to take part in the war.
Meanwhile, one of Lycomedes' daughters, Deidamia, who had long known Achilles' true identity, came forward pregnant, although the birth of her child does not take place until after the hero's departure. He was named Neoptolemus, and nicknamed Pyrrhus (after his father's name). However, some verses in the Iliad (XIX, 315-337) indicate that Achilles already knew him before his departure, although he was still a child. The chronology itself suggests this, as Achilles' son is going to take part in the war, ten years later.
Odysseus then led Achilles to his parents. Thetis, frightened by the failure of her stratagem, made insistent recommendations to her son: his life would be the longer the more obscure he kept it.
But Achilles refused his mother's advice. Nothing mattered to him more than the glitter of glory, and however much the oracles predicted his death at Troy - as a consequence of having killed a son of Apollo - he did not rest until his father granted him an army and a fleet.
Peleus then endowed him with fifty ships and entrusted him with the weapons the gods had offered him on his wedding day. Achilles left, taking with him his faithful preceptor Phoenix, as well as his faithful and inseparable friend Patroclus.
Achilles in the Trojan War
Achilles is mentioned already in the first two verses of the Iliad:
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί' Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε' ἔθηκεν, Sing, goddess, of wrath, of Peleus' son, Achilles, the cursed wrath, which brought pain to thousands of the Achaeans. Achilles is the only mortal to experience the devouring wrath; if his anger can sometimes waver, at other times it cannot be cooled. The humanization of Achilles through the events of war is an important theme of the work's narrative.
As soon as the Greeks leave for the Trojan War, they make an accidental stop in Mysia, Asia Minor, then ruled by King Telephus. In the ensuing battle Achilles inflicted upon Thelepheus himself a wound that would never heal; Thelephe consulted an oracle, who stated that "he who wounded shall heal." Guided by the oracle, he was taken to Argos, where Achilles healed him, and eventually became his guide on the journey to Troy.
According to accounts in Euripides' lost play about Thelepheus, he would have gone to Aulid pretending to be a beggar, and asked Achilles to heal his wound; the latter refused, claiming to have no knowledge of medicine.
In yet another version, Thelepheus kidnapped Orestes and asked for a ransom to free him, which would be Achilles' help to heal his wound. Odysseus would have argued that Achilles' spear caused the wound and therefore she should be able to heal it. Pieces of the spear were then scraped over the wound, and Telephus was healed.
Elida and Tenedo
Returning to the port of Élida - eight years later - to regroup after this failed expedition, the Greeks were immobilized by the force of the winds.
Agamemnon, the head of the Achaean armies, having learned from the oracle that the winds would not blow in his favor unless he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, figured that the best way to attract her, without suspicion, would be to propose marriage to Achilles. When the hero learned of the deception he had unknowingly been involved in, he violently rebuked the "king of kings": and this will be his first quarrel with Agamemnon.
After the fulfillment of Iphigenia's sacrifice, the gods allowed the winds to blow, and so the Greek fleet was able to sail, calling at the island of Tenedo, off Troy.
It is unclear whether the island's king, Tenes, would have simply opposed the Greeks' landing, or rather tried to protect his sister from Achilles' intentions; whatever the answer, the truth is that he was eventually killed by the hero. Since Tenes was, however, the son of Apollo, his fate was sealed there-even though Achilles gave him a pomp-filled memorial service.
Scythian of Colonas
According to the Scypria, with the rest of the Epic Cycle and the traditions narrated by Plutarch and the Byzantine scholar John Tzetzes, when the Greek ships reached Troy, Achilles is said to have fought against Scythian of Colonas, a son of Posidon, and killed him.
According to the Scypria (the part of the Epic Cycle that recounts the events of the Trojan War before the "wrath of Achilles"), when the Achaeans wished to return to their homes, they were prevented by Achilles, who subsequently attacked the cattle of Aeneas, sacked the neighboring cities, and killed Troilus.
According to Dares the Phrygian in his Account of the Destruction of Troy, the Latin summary through which the story of Achilles was transmitted to medieval Europe, Troilus was a young Trojan prince, the youngest of the five legitimate sons of Priam (or sometimes Apollo) and Hecuba. Despite his young age, he was one of the main Trojan warrior leaders. Prophecies linked Troilus' fate to that of Troy, and so he was ambushed in an attempt to imprison him.
Achilles, however, was fascinated by the beauty of both Troilus and his sister Polixena, and, ravished by desire, directed his sexual attentions to the young man - who, upon refusing to yield to Achilles' advances, found himself beheaded on an altar of Apollo. Later versions of the story suggested that Troilus had been accidentally killed by Achilles in a warm embrace between lovers; in this version of the myth, Achilles' death would have come as retribution for this sacrilege. Ancient writers portrayed Troilus as the epitome of a dead child, mourned by his parents. In the words of the first Vatican Mythographer, if Troilus had come of age, Troy would have been invincible.
In the Iliad
Homer's Iliad is the most famous account of Achilles' deeds in the Trojan War. The Homeric epic covers only a few weeks of the conflict, and does not describe Achilles' death. It begins with the hero withdrawing from the battle after being disgraced by Agamemnon, commander of the Achaean forces.
Agamemnon had captured a woman named Criseida as his slave; her father, Crises, a priest of the god Apollo, begged Agamemnon to return her to him, to no avail. As punishment, Apollo brought a plague upon the Greeks.
The prophet Calcas successfully determined the source of the trouble, but dared not speak out until Achilles swore to protect him. Agamemnon then consented to return Criseida to her father, but ordered that the prize obtained by Achilles during the battle, the slave Briseida, be brought to him as Criseida's replacement. Angered at the dishonor (and, as he would later say, because he loved Briseida) and urged on by Thetis, his mother, Achilles refused to fight or lead his troops along with the Greek forces.
As the battle began to take a turn unfavorable to the Greeks, Nestor declared that the Trojans were winning because Agamemnon had angered Achilles, and urged the Achaean leader to make peace with the warrior. Agamemnon agreed and sent Odysseus and two other leaders to Achilles, offering the return of Briseida and other gifts.
Achilles refused, and further urged the Greeks to sail back home, as he planned to do. Eventually, however, eager for glory despite his absence from the battlefield, Achilles prayed to his mother, asking her to intercede on his behalf with Zeus, favoring the Trojans - who, led by Hector, eventually effectively pushed the Greek army toward their camps on the beach, and stormed their ships.
With the Greek troops on the verge of complete destruction, Patroclus led the Myrmidons into battle, impersonating Achilles after donning his armor and using his battle chariot. Patroclus was successful in driving the Trojans from the Greek-occupied shores, but he was killed by Hector before he could organize the counterattack on the city of Troy.
After receiving news of the death of Patroclus from Antiochus, son of Nestor, Achilles grieved greatly over the death of his friend, and held several funeral games in his honor.
His mother, Thetis, also tries to comfort a tormented Achilles, and convinces Hephaestus to make him new armor in place of the armor worn by Patroclus, which had been taken by Hector. The new armor featured the Achilles Shield, described in rich detail by the poet.
Furious at the death of Patroclus, Achilles reconsidered his decision to withdraw from the fight, and returned to battle, killing several men in his fury - always in search of Hector. The hero even fought the river-god Scamander, who had been enraged that Achilles had choked his waters with all the men he had killed.
The god was about to drown Achilles when he was interrupted by Hera and Hephaestus; and Zeus himself, realizing the extent of Achilles' fury, sent the gods to restrain him, lest he plunder Troy itself alone - indicating that Achilles' fury, if not obstructed, might defy fate itself, since Troy was not yet to be destroyed.
Finally, Achilles found his prey; after chasing Hector around the walls of Troy three times, until the goddess Athena - who had assumed the form of Hector's favorite brother, Deiphobo - convinced Hector to stop running and face Achilles, face to face.
When Hector realized that he had been tricked, he knew that his death was inevitable and accepted his fate; eager to die fighting, he attacked Achilles with his only weapon, his sword. Achilles finally got his revenge, killing Hector with a single blow to the neck. He then tied the defeated man's body to his chariot, and dragged him across the battlefield for nine days.
With the help of the god Hermes, Hector's father, Priam, went to Achilles' tent for one night and begged him to allow him to perform the funeral rites that his son deserved. The last passage of the Iliad is the funeral of Hector, after which the fate of Troy was only a matter of time.
After this temporary truce with Priam, Achilles defeated in combat and killed the Amazon queen, Pentesileia, later lamenting her death. Initially distracted by her beauty, he did not fight as intensely as usual; when he realized, however, that his distraction was endangering his life due to the combat skills of the warrior queen, he concentrated again and succeeded in killing her.
While Achilles was lamenting the death of such a rare beauty, a notorious Greek troublemaker named Térsites started laughing and mocking him, suggesting that the hero was in love with the deceased; disturbed by such a lack of sensitivity and respect, Achilles punched Térsites in the face with fury, killing him immediately.
Although Homer portrayed Térsites as an individual clearly of low social standing, later traditions described him as being a relative of Diomedes - which would have led Achilles to travel to the island of Lesbos in search of purification.
According to the diary of Dictis of Crete, the story was different. Pentesileia arrived during the funerals of Hector, bringing an army of Amazons and allies, and attacked the Greeks, without the help of the Trojans. Achilles wounded Pentesileia, pulled her by the hair, and knocked her off her horse, which caused his army to flee.
Pentesileia was still alive, and the Greeks debated what to do with her: throw her into the river or give her to the dogs to tear apart, but Achilles wanted to let her die naturally (from her wounds) and bury her. Diomedes eventually had his idea unanimously approved, and the amazon was thrown into the river Escamander to drown - an act that Díctis considered cruel and barbaric.
Memnon, and the fall of Achilles
With the death of Patroclus, Achilles' closest companion became Nestor's son, Antiochus. When Memnon, king of Ethiopia, killed him, Achilles was again compelled to return to the battlefield, seeking revenge.
The combat between Achilles and Memnon, motivated by the death of Antiochus, presented echoes of that between Achilles and Hector, for the death of Patroclus - except that Memnon, unlike Hector, was also the son of a goddess.
Several Homeric scholars have argued that the episode would have inspired several details in the Iliad's description of Patroclus' death and Achilles' reaction to it. The episode was then part of the Epic Cycle, in particular the Aethopis ("Ethiopic"), composed after the Iliad, probably in the 7th century BCE. The work is lost today, and survives only in sparse fragments quoted by later authors.
As had been predicted by Hector, in his last breath, Achilles was later killed by Paris with a poisoned arrow (in the heel, according to the Estacio version). In certain versions of the myth, the god Apollo himself is said to have guided Paris' arrow.
Both versions later deny Paris any kind of valor for the feat, due to the common conception that he was a coward, and not the man his brother Hector was - and, consequently, Achilles would have remained undefeated on the battlefield. His bones were mixed with those of Patroclus, and funeral games were held in his honor.
Achilles also appeared in another lost epic about the Trojan War, authored by Arctinus of Miletus, as still living after his death, on the island of Leucas, at the mouth of the Danube River.
Another version of his death recounts that he fell deeply in love with one of the Trojan princesses, Polixena, and asked Priam for her hand - who consented to the union, sensing that it would symbolize the end of the war and an alliance with the greatest warrior in the world.
While the king was making the preparations for the marriage, however, Paris - who would have to abandon Helen if Achilles married his sister, hid in bushes near Achilles and killed him with a divine arrow. Paris would then have been killed by Philoctetes, with the bow and arrows of Heracles.
The fate of Achilles' armor
The armor of Achilles was the subject of a dispute between Odysseus and Ájax the Telamonian; both competed for it through speeches about who would be the bravest after Achilles, made to the Trojan prisoners - who, after debating the matter, reached a consensus and gave the victory to Odysseus.
Ájax, furious, cursed him - which brought him the wrath of the goddess Athena, who made him temporarily mad with sadness and anguish, and drove him to murder sheep believing them to be his companions. Upon awakening from his rage and realizing what he had done, Ajax committed suicide. Odysseus eventually gifted the armor to Neoptolemus, son of Achilles.
A relic purporting to be Achilles' bronze-tipped spear was preserved for centuries in the temple of Athena, located in the acropolis of Phaselis (Phaselis) in Lycia, a port located on the Pamphylian Gulf.
The city was visited in 333 BC by Alexander the Great, who used to see himself as a "new Achilles" and carried the Iliad with him; his biographers, however, do not mention the spear, which would undoubtedly have piqued his interest. The relic, however, was surely on display during the lifetime of Pausanias in the second century.
Achilles and Patroclus
Achilles' relationship with Patroclus is one of the main aspects of his myth. Its exact nature has been the subject of debate and dispute from antiquity to the present day. In the Iliad they seem to be portrayed generally as models of a deep and legal philia relationship, so analysts and scholars of all eras have interpreted the relationship from the point of view of their own cultures, which has generated a wide range of opinions on the subject.
In fifth-century B.C. Athens, for example, some four centuries after Homer, the relationship was commonly interpreted as pederastic. Contemporary readers, on the other hand, are divided between interpreting the two heroes either as "comrades-in-arms" (hetaîros), between whom there is no sexual relationship whatsoever, or as a homosexual couple.
The Cult of Achilles in Antiquity
There was an archaic heroic cult of Achilles on the White Island (Leuca) in the Black Sea, off the present coast of Romania and Ukraine, where a temple and oracle dedicated to the hero survived into the Roman period.
In the lost epic Aithiopis, a kind of continuation of the Iliad attributed to Arctinus of Miletus, Achilles' mother, Thetis, returns to pay homage to him and remove his ashes from the funeral pyre, and takes them to Leuca, at the mouth of the Danube. There, the Achaeans erected a tomb for him, and held funeral games.
Pliny the Elder's Natural History, mentions that the tomb was no longer visible (Insula Akchillis tumulo eius viri clara) on the island consecrated to him, located fifty Roman miles from Peuce, in the Danube delta.
Pausanias was told that the island was covered with forests and full of animals, some wild, some docile, and that on the island there was also a temple of Achilles, and his statue.
Ruins of a square-shaped temple with 30 meters on each side - possibly the one dedicated to Achilles - were discovered by a Captain Kritzikly in 1823, but there is currently no archaeological work of any kind being done on the island.
According to Pomponius Mela, Achilles was buried on the island called Aquileia (Achillea), between the Boristhenes and the Istro.
Whereas for the Greek geographer Dionysius Periegeta of Bithynia, who lived in the time of the Roman emperor Domitian, the island where Achilles is buried would be called Leuca (Greek: Leuke, "white") "because the wild animals living there are white," and that there would reside the souls of Achilles and other heroes, who wandered about the uninhabited valleys of the place;
"this was how Jove rewarded men who had distinguished themselves for their virtues, because through virtue they attained eternal honor. "
The Euxine Point Tour gives the following details:
It is said that the goddess Thetis created this island from the sea for her son Achilles, who lives there. There is her temple and her statue, archaic works. This island is uninhabited, and goats graze on it, not many, which the people who happen to arrive there with their ships sacrifice to Achilles.
In this temple are deposited various sacred offerings, such as vases, rings and precious stones, offered to the hero as a form of gratitude. Inscriptions in Greek and Latin can still be read, in which Achilles is praised and celebrated. Some of them are dedicated to Patroclus, for those who seek Achilles' favors always pay homage to him at the same time.
There are also countless kinds of sea birds on the island, which look after Achilles' temple. Every morning they fly out to sea, wet their wings, and return to the temple to spray it with water; then they clean the temple fireplace with their wings.
Still other people say that some men come to this island intentionally; they bring animals in their ships, destined to be sacrificed. Some of these animals are actually killed, and others are set free on the island, as a way to honor Achilles.
Still others are driven to the island by sea storms; since they do not bring animals to be sacrificed, they must consult the oracle of Achilles himself, and ask permission to choose the sacrificial victims from among the animals grazing freely there, and pay for them, in return, a price they consider fair.
If the oracle denies them permission, for there is indeed an oracle there, they add something to the price previously offered; and if the oracle refuses again, they must add something else, until finally the oracle agrees that the price is sufficient.
The victim then stops running away, but volunteers to be imprisoned. There is also a large amount of silver on the island, dedicated to the hero, as a price for the sacrificial victims. For some of the people who come to the island, Achilles appears in their dreams; for others, he even appears during the sea voyage, if they are in the vicinity, even instructing them as to where on the island they can best anchor their ships.
The heroic worship of Achilles on the island of Leuca was widespread from antiquity, not only in the sea lanes of the Pontic Sea, but also in several maritime cities whose economic interests were linked to the riches of the Black Sea.
Achilles of the island of Leuca was revered as "Pontarch" (Pontarches), the ruler of the Pontus, protector of sailors and navigation. Sailors would go out of their way to offer him sacrifices.
Several commercial port cities in the Greek-dominated seas were dedicated to Achilles of Leuca: Achilleion in Messenia,Achilleios in Laconia, or even, according to some scholars, Aquileia and, in the northern arm of the Danube delta, Quília ("Achileii").
Leuca was reputed to be a place of healing; Pausanias reports that the Delphic Pythia is said to have sent a nobleman from Crotona to treat himself for a chest wound. Ammianus Marcellinus attributes the healing to the island's waters (aquae).
The cult of Achilles in modern times
In the region of Gasturos (Γαστούρι), south of the city of Corfu in Greece, the Empress of Austria, Elisabeth of Bavaria, better known as Sissi, built a summer palace in 1890 with Achilles as its central theme, a monument to Platonic romanticism.
The palace, of course, was named after the hero, Achilleion (Αχίλλειον). The elegant structure is filled with paintings and statues of Achilles, both in the main hall and in the lavish gardens, which recreate tragic and heroic scenes from the Trojan War.
Other myths about Achilles
In book 11 of the Odyssey the same Odysseus travels to the nether world and there converses with the shadows, the souls of the dead. One of these is Achilles, who, when greeted as being "blessed in life, blessed in death," replies that he would rather be a slave under the worst of lords than a king of all the dead.
Achilles then asks Odysseus about his son's deeds in the Trojan War, and when Odysseus describes Neoptolemus' heroic deeds to him, the hero is filled with satisfaction - which gives the reader an intriguing sense of ambiguity in the way Achilles views the heroic life.
Achilles was worshipped as a sea god in many of the Greek settlements on the Black Sea, where the semi-mythical "White Island" (Leuca) is located where he is said to have dwelled after his death along with several other heroes.
The kings of Epirus claimed descent from Achilles through his son, Neoptolemus. Alexander the Great, son of the Epirotan princess Olympias, claimed this descent for this very reason - and in various ways tried to be like his supposed ancestor, even visiting his tomb as he passed through Troy.
Achilles fought and killed in battle the Amazon Helen. Some versions of his legend say that he would have married Medea, and that after their death both would have been reunited in the Elysian Fields of Hades - as Hera had promised to Thetis in Apollonius' Argonation.
Achilles in Greek tragedy
The Greek tragic playwright Aeschylus is the author of a trilogy of plays about Achilles, which have been named Achilleis by modern scholars. These tragedies recount Achilles' exploits during the Trojan War, including his victory over Hector, and his death when an arrow shot by Paris and guided by Apollo struck him in the heel.
Some fragments of this work were joined with other fragments of the author's works, forming a modern play on which to work; the first part of the trilogy, The Myrmidons, focuses on the relationship between Achilles and the chorus, which represents the Achaean army, and attempts to convince the hero to end his dispute with Agamemnon; only a few lines survive from the passage today.
Another playwright who authored tragedies, Sophocles, also wrote a play with Achilles as the main character, Achilles' Lovers, of which only a few fragments survive.
The Wrath of Achilles
During the tenth year of the war, Achilles and Agamemnon became embroiled in a great dispute. This was because Agamemnon had been forced to free the priest's daughter, Crisida, and demanded that Achilles' maidservant, Briseis, be released as compensation.
Injurious and furious, Achilles decided to abandon the war and retreated to his camp, thus jeopardizing the possible victory of the Greeks. The story of Achilles' anger at Troy is the subject of the Iliad, the most widely read work of all antiquity, which is responsible for the enormous notoriety of the Greek hero.
The situation of the Greeks soon became distressing. Patroclus, without Achilles' permission, stole his armor and went to the battlefield where he eventually found death at the hands of Hector, husband of Andromache, the bravest of King Priam's sons (the real hero of the Iliad, subtended by Homer).
Mad with grief over the loss of his friend (and possible lover), Achilles leaped unarmed onto the battlefield producing a demented roar that the Trojan army thought was an insane madman. His feud with Agamemnon had been forgotten, for now Achilles thought only of revenge for the death of Patroclus.
And it is Hector whom Achilles pursues with his hatred, and it is he whom he intends to sacrifice in honor of Patroclus. One day, by chance of the war, Achilles meets Hector on the battlefield, defeating him in a long and singular combat, killing him only after he stumbles on a rock in the light of a burning sun (a stumble which disoriented all the Trojan warrior's senses).
Then, disrespecting the ethics of the funeral rituals of those defeated in combat, he tied the corpse to his chariot and made the shameful return to the walls of Troy, where he only left the bloody and shattered body of the honorable Hector when the old King Priam came to beg for indulgence.
The post-Homeric tradition has also added other deeds attributed to Achilles. These include his fight against the queen of the Amazons, Pentesileia, who came with her troops to the rescue of the Trojans and lost her life at his hands. At the last moment, when Achilles saw his victim's face inflamed by a sudden and impossible passion, he wept over her body.
His encounter with Memnon, son of Aurora, which ended with the Trojan's death, is also related, and was an inexhaustible source of tears for his mother.
The death of Achilles
Despite Achilles' bravery and accomplishments, fatality was bound to happen. The death of the great ancient hero is presented in several versions, but the most accepted one reports that he died wounded in the heel by a sharp, powerful and murderous arrow shot by the prince Paris and guided by Apollo.
In this act, Paris succeeds in avenging the death of his brother Hector and simultaneously avenging the death of the son of the god Apollo, Tenes.
Achilles, after his death, received a just reward for a lifetime of heroic deeds and fighting. Zeus, at the request of Thetis, led him to the island of the blessed, where he married a heroine (mention is made of Medea, Iphigenia, Polixena, and even Helen: from his union with the latter, a winged son was born, Euphorion, who is identified with the morning breeze).