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Who Was Achilles?

Many of us who are interested in Greek Mythology will recognise the name Achilles but for those of us who are not familiar with the subject he is an unknown quantity. Here we take a look at who Achilles was, where he came from and what did he do to earn his reputation as great warrior and hero.

Childhood of Achilles

Achilles was one of the greatest heros of Greek Mythology being central to the Trojan War plus is the hero of Homer's IIiad. Achilles was the son of Pelius King of the Myrmidons and the nymph Thetis. When Achilles was born his mother wished for him to become immortal therefore she dipped Achilles in the River Styx in order to make him so but as she was holding him by his heel this was the part of Achilles's body that was left vulnerable as it was not submerged in the water. This made it the only part of his body where he could be mortally wounded. This is where the phrase "it was his Achilles heel" came from.

The Trojan War Years

Achilles was said to be a very emotional warrior with his rages at times uncontrollable. According to the Illiad Achilles was a main protagonist in the Trojan Wars having fifty ships or more under his command with up to fifty brave Greek warriors on board. Achilles was a great leader who commanded much respect. He appointed five leaders who each lead five hundred Greek warriors known as Myrmidons, they were Alcimedon, Eudorus, Menesthius, Peisander and Phoenix.

The most comprehensive stories regarding Achilles and the Trojan Wars can be found in The Illiad by Homer. The Illiad displays the might and wrath of Achilles describing the main few weeks of the Trojan War, not its entirety. The narrative begins with the dishonouring of Achilles by Agamemnon, who demanded the return of Briseis the mythical queen of Asia Minor whom Achilles had taken as his prize and truly loved. Achilles, as a result of returning his queen, then refused to fight alongside the other Greek leaders in the war, turning to prayer, pleading with Thetis to intercede with the God Zeus so that he may be successful in any future battles.

When the Greeks realised that the battle was turning in favour of The Trojans Agamemnon offered to send Briseis back to Achilles thinking that his taking of her had displeased the gods. Achilles refused his offer advising the Greeks to go home as this was what he intended to do himself. The Trojans carried on advancing led by Hector they battled against Patrolocus who was fighting in the name of Achilles, wearing his armour, while Achilles stayed in his camp. Patrolocus was killed much to the dismay of Achilles who mourned him by hosting games in Patrolocus's honour. It has often been argued that the pair were more than just good friends but this is a matter of debate still.

New armour was commissioned for Achilles as Hector had taken Patrolocus's armour when he defeated him. This new armour included the shield of Achilles which was very intricate with much detail inscribed on it and has many passages in the Illiad dedicated to its description. Achilles once again resumed his battles as he was mortified at the death of his friend and was determined to find Hector to wreak his revenge.

Eventually Achilles caught up with Hector showing him no mercy at all although he did release the body later so that a funeral could be performed.

The Death of Achilles

Achilles fought many battles killing many who got in his way with little mercy. Even beautiful queens such as Penthesilia an Amazonian warrior was dispatched once Achilles pulled himself together and overcame the radiance of her beauty. Achilles had a strong bond with Antilochus son of Nestor. Memnon who was king of Ethiopia killed Antilochus, while taking his revenge Achilles killed Memnon. Achilles's own death was by a poisoned arrow, fired by Paris brother of Hector, fatally wounding Achilles in his heel.

Achilles was cremated and his ashes were placed in an urn along with those of his beloved friend Patrolocus. Achilles's armour then passed on to Odysseus who later passed it onto Achilles's son Neoptolemus. For years a relic thought to be that of the spear tip from a weapon belonging to Achilles was kept in the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis.