Episode #2 of the course “Heroes of Greek Legend”
Achilles was a legendary Greek; he is the strong, courageous central character of the epic poem by Homer, The Iliad. Although the poem can be traced to around 700 BCE, Homer likely based his version on an older tale and added details to tell more about Achilles’ personal history. According to myth, Achilles’ mother was a sea goddess who was very worried about his mortality, even when he was a baby. She tried spells, including dipping him into the protective waters of the river Styx. However, she gripped him by the ankle, so that spot was never touched by the river, and it remained vulnerable. Achilles grew up to become a fearsome warrior, and men followed him in battle because of his powerful skills. He was recognizable on the battlefield by the enchanted armor made for him by the blacksmith of the gods.
In Homer’s Iliad, the Greeks, with Achilles as star warrior, are besieging the city of Troy. Homer describes Achilles as quick-tempered, vengeful, and terribly violent. When his friend Patroclus is killed by the Trojan prince Hector, Achilles hunts Hector through the battlefield, slaughtering dozens of soldiers. After killing Hector, Achilles ties Hector’s body to his chariot and drags it until it is unrecognizable. Eventually showing some remorse and sympathy, Achilles returns Hector’s body to his father, the King of Troy, for a proper burial.
Homer does not describe Achilles’ end, but according to legend, it is Hector’s brother, Paris, who kills mighty Achilles. With help from the god Apollo, Paris shoots an arrow through Achilles’ one weak spot—the heel where his mother held him when she dipped him in the river Styx. The story remains so strong throughout history that even today the tendon on the back of a person’s leg connecting the calf to the heel bone is known as the Achilles tendon. A powerful person’s weak spot is also commonly called their Achilles heel.
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