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Achilles

In Greek mythology, Akhilleus AiŠkidÍs (descendent of Aeacus), or plain Achilles (also transliterated as Achilleus, Akhilles, or Akhilleus) was the greatest warrior in the Trojan War, and the central character of Homer's Iliad.

Birth

Achilles was the son of Peleus, king of the Myrmidones in Thessaly, and the sea nymph Thetis. Zeus and Poseidon had vied for her hand until an oracle revealed she would bear a son greater than his father, whence they wisely chose to give her to someone else. According to legend, Thetis had tried to make Achilles invincible by dipping him in the river Styx, but forgot to wet the heel she held him by, leaving him vulnerable so he could be killed by a blow to that heel. (See Achilles' tendon.) Homer, however, deliberately makes no mention of this; Achilles cannot be a hero if he is not at risk. In an earlier and less popular version of the story, Thetis anointed the boy in ambrosia and put him on top of a fire to burn away the mortal parts of his body. She was interrupted by Peleus and abandoned both father and son in a rage. Peleus gave him to Chiron to raise.

Achilles in the Trojan War

Telephus

When the Greeks left for the Trojan War, they accidentally stopped in Mysia, ruled by King Telephus. In the battle, Achilles wounded Telephus. The wound would not heal and Telephus asked an oracle who stated the "he that wounded shall heal".

According to others' reports about Euripides' lost play about Telephus, he went to Aulis, pretending to be a beggar and asked Achilles to help heal his wound. Acchilles refused, claiming to have no medical knowledge. Alternatively, Telephus held Orestes for ransom, the ransom being Achilles' aid in healing the wound. Odysseus reasoned that the spear had inflicted the wound and the spear must be able to heal it. Pieces of the spear were scraped off onto the wound, and Telephus healed. This is an example of sympathetic magic.

Achilles in the Court of Lycomedes

An oracle, Calchas, stated that the Greeks would not win without Achilles but his mother, Thetis, knew he would die there. His mother thus hid him at the court of Lycomedes in Scyros, disguised as a woman. There he had an affair with Deidamea resulting in a child, Neoptolemus. He was found out, however, by Odysseus, Ajax the great and Phoenix, who arrived disguised as a peddler with trinkets and weaponry. Achilles was marked out from the other women by admiring the wrong goods. Alternatively, he was found out by a blast of the trumpet, whence instead of cowering he grabbed a spear to ward off the attackers. From there he needed little convincing to go to Troy, accompanied by his best friend Patroclus and his tutor, Phoenix (this is the same Phoenix that accompanied Odysseus to Scyros in a different, much later version).

During the Trojan War

Achilles is one of the only two people described as "god-like" in the Iliad. This does not just refer to his supreme fighting ability, but also to his attitude. He shows a complete and total devotion to the excellence of his craft and, like a god, has almost no regard for life. Not his own - clearly he does not mind a swift death, so long as it is glorious - and not really of others. His anger is absolute. The humanization of Achilles by the events of the war is the main theme of the Iliad.

Achilles' charioteer's name was Automedon.

Agamemnon and the Death of Patroclus

Achilles took twenty-three towns outside Troy, including Lyrnessos, where he captured Briseis to keep as a concubine. Meanwhile, Agamemnon took a woman named Chryseis and taunted her father, Chryses, a priest of Apollo, when he attempted to buy her back. Apollo sent a plague through the Greek armies and Agamemnon was forced to give Chryseis back to her father. He took Briseis as compensation. Achilles and Agamemnon argued and Achilles refused to fight any longer; Patroclus donned his armor and took his place and was killed by Hector (who also took Achilles' armor). Enraged, Achilles killed Hector (after his mother acquired new armor from Hephaestus and Hector was injured by Ajax) and dragged his body around Troy three times before allowing Priam (Hector's father and king of Troy) to bury it.

Xanthus

During the Trojan War, Xanthus, a magical horse was rebuked by Achilles for allowing Patroclus to be killed. Xanthus responded by saying that a god had killed Patroclus and a god would soon kill Achilles too. The Erinyes struck the horse dumb.

Memnon, Cycnus, Penthesilea, the Death of Achilles

Shortly after the death of Hector, Achilles defeated Memnon of Ethiopia, Cycnus of Colonae and the Amazonian warrior Penthesilia (with whom Achilles also had an affair in some versions). He was very soon after killed by Paris - either by an arrow to the heel, or in an older version by a knife to the back while visiting Polyxena, a Trojan princess. Both versions conspicuously deny the killer any sort of valor, and Achilles remains undefeated on the battlefield. His bones are mingled with those of Patroclus, and funeral games are held. Like Ajax; he is represented as living after his death in the island of Leuke at the mouth of the Danube

The Fate of Achilles' Armor

Achilles' armor was the object of a feud between Odysseus and Ajax the great. They competed for it and Odysseus won. Ajax went mad with grief and vowed to kill his comrades; he started killing cattle (thinking they were Greek soldiers), and then himself.

Other Stories About Achilles

After the Trojan War, Achilles sold Lycaon, son of Priam and Laothoe. Lycaon was later killed trying to escape.

In the Odyssey, also by Homer, there is a passage where Odysseus sails to the underworld and converses with the shades. One of these is Achilles, who greeted as "blessed in life, blessed in death", responds that he would rather be a slave than be dead. This has been interpreted as a rejection of his warrior life, but also as indignity to his martyrdom being slighted.

The kings of Epirus claimed to be descended from Achilles through his son. Alexander the Great, son of the Epiran princess Olympias, could therefore also claim this descent, and in many ways strived to be like his great ancestor; he is said to have visited his tomb while passing Troy. Achilles was worshipped as a sea-god in many of the Greek colonies on the Black Sea.

Achilles fought and killed the Amazon Helene.

Some also said he married Medea.

Homer, Iliad; Homer, Odyssey XI, 467-540; Apollodorus, Bibliotheke III, xiii, 5-8; Apollodorus, Epitome III, 14-V, 7; Ovid, Metamorphoses XI, 217-265; XII, 580-XIII, 398; Ovid, Heroides III; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica IV, 783-879;


588 Achilles is the first-discovered of the Trojan asteroids, named after the character described above.

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