Metamorphoses Project: Tracing Mythology through Time and Place
Part 1
"Death of Achilles" or "The Jacking of a Hero"
Achilles: One Bad Mutha

Group Members: Rev. Emily Daws, Mr. B. P. Dailey, Dr. Shannon Paul, Jake Hansen, Esq.

Mo' sources, Mo' betta:

Immortalizing Achilles

Achilles' mother, Thetis, wished to make her newborn son immortal. She immersed him in fire, but when his father, Peleus, cried out, his mother forsook her infant son and returned to the sea. Apollodorus 2.71

-Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. pages 230-1.

    While The Iliad portrays Achilles as an only child, the Aigimos tells the story of Thetis placing six of her children before Achilles in a boiling cauldron to see if they are mortal.
Achilles' Childhood

As a child, Achilles was trained by a Centaur to hunt wild animals without the aid of dogs or nets. His power came from quickness and skill. Pindar Nemean 3.43

Thetis knew that Achilles would surely perish in the Trojan War, so to prevent him from going, she disguised him as a girl, and gave him to Lycomedes as a maiden of the court. Apollodorus 3.13.8

Achilles the Healer

Telephus is only able to take the Greeks to Troy if Achilles heals his wounds. Hearing this, Achilles uses rust from the spear that struck Telephus to heal the wound. Apollodorus 2.191

Fagles, Robert, trans. Homer's The Iliad. Penguin Books USA Inc, 1990.
    Web connection:
The rage of a hero and the resolve of a war. Book 24 tells the story of Achilles and Priam, the king of Troy, meeting to discuss the ransom of Prince Hector's body after he was killed by Achilles.

Achilles' Death: Conflicting Versions

Ovid's version of Achilles' death states that Paris discharged the arrow, but Apollo directed it to Achilles' heal, his only vulnerable point. Ovid Metamorphoses 12.609

Sophocles infers that Apollo worked alone to kill Achilles, without the help of a mortal. Sophocles Philoctetes 334

Euripedes' version of Achilles' death implies that Paris' shaft alone brought down Achilles. Euripides Hecuba 382

Analysis of the hero/divinity in antiquity

    The identity of Achilles that transcends myth is the universal Achilles, a hero for all times, a mortal man favored by the immortal gods. Achilles was driven to fight and doomed to die. His parents were Thetis, an immortal goddess, and Peleus, a mortal man. His mother wished, from his birth, to make him immortal, but there are several discrepancies as to her methods. Apollodorus 2.71 says that she hid him in fire to destroy the mortal parts he inherited from his father. His father stopped her and she forsook her baby and returned to the sea. Another version says that she placed him in a cauldron of boiling water to see if he would die. This version also states that Achilles was the seventh child Thetis had attempted to make immortal. The other six children did not survive her test. Whether it was boiling water or fire, though, does not seem to be the point. Rather, these stories focus on Achilles' mortality. By attempting to make her son immortal, Thetis only succeeds in emphasizing the fact that he is mortal, and can be wounded or killed.
    There are other parts to these stories that say that Thetis dipped Achilles into the waters of the river Styx in order to make his body invulnerable (find a description of one artist's interpretation on part two of our page). His only weak spot resulted from Thetis forgetting to immerse the ankle by which she was holding him. In Apollodorus 2.71, Peleus pulls Achilles from the fire in time to save him, but his heel has been burnt. Peleus uses the bone of a dead warrior to heal this wound, and the spot is Achilles' only weak point.
    Peleus gave his son to Chiron, a centaur, to be raised and taught to hunt and fight. Apollodorus 2.71 says that he is fed lion, swine, and bear. Other stories say he is fed fawn and deer. These foods encourage and nurture the development of his inherent animal nature. They are meant to allow him to take on the strenghts of these animals. For instance, he is supposed to inherit a "lion heart" for bravery, and the feet of deer for speed. The consumption of these animals show and symbolize the animal within Achilles.
    When Achilles is nine years old, Calchas prophesies that the battle of Troy cannot be won without Achilles. Thetis knows that he will surely die if he should fight in Troy. In an effort to prolong the life of her precious mortal son, Thetis dresses Achilles as a girl and sends him to the court of Lycomedes in disguise. When Odysseus sounds a war cry, Achilles cannot resist his warrior instincts and comes out of his disguise (Apollodorus 3.13.8). Achilles is a warrior; to deny this is to deny his life, and Thetis' efforts to keep him safe are futile. For his mother to attempt to make him deny his masculinity only serves to make him reinforce it when Odysseus comes to recruit him to fight in the war. He joins the Greek forces getting ready to fight in the battle of Troy.
    On the way to Troy, the army fights with Telephus and the Mysians (the people of Mysia) (Apollodorus 2.191). Mysia is on the way from Greece to Troy and the Mysians will not let the Greeks pass. Telephus is wounded by Achilles, but the Greeks are forced to return to their homeland because they are not sure in which direction to continue. Telephus is told by Apollo that his wound can only be healed by the man and the weapon which inflicted it upon him. He travels to Argos in search of Achilles and asks for his help in "heel"-ing the wound. Achilles agrees, in return for Telephus' guidance to the Greeks on their way to Troy. This is similar to Book 24 of the Iliad, when Achilles meets with Priam to discuss the return of Hector's body. Achilles has killed Priam's son and caused him pain, but Achilles is the only man who can "heel" the pain of the king by returning the body of his son. Achilles and Priam need to join together to "heel" the pain of loss, just as he and Telephus need to work together to "heel" the wound. None of the men alone can ease the suffering.
    Despite the efforts of his mother, Achilles does die in Troy. Priam's son Paris shot Achilles in his only weak spot, the heel. Ovid's Metamorphoses 12.609 asserts that Apollo assisted Paris (at the request of Poseidon) by guiding his arrow. This version would imply that Achilles could not be killed by mortals alone, making him "more immortal" than most. Sophocles 3.34 tells that Apollo killed Achlles without enlisting the aide of a mortal. This would attest even more highly of Achilles' near immortality, since only a god can kill him. Euripides 3.82 gives Achilles the least credit, relating that pretty-boy Paris killed Achilles without any help from the immortals.
    These myths profile the life of Achilles from birth to death with many variations. Although he was mortal, he possessed many universal traits that were godlike and divine. He was a warrior that seemed to be invincible in every tale told of his life and conquests in battle. However, like the men he killed, he was vulnerable. No matter what version of the stories is told, Achilles remains a mighty warrior, protected by the gods; but even the gods could not protect a mortal man from fate.

Last Update: 29 July 1999
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