Achilles was a half-divine hero, being the son of the sea nymph Thetis and king Peleus of Thessaly.
He was educated by the wise centaur Chiron and was described as extremely handsome but also very emotional. He was almost immortal since his mother had dipped him into the river Styx as a baby. Holding the child by its heel when putting it in the water, Thetis made Achilles’ whole body except the heel immortal. He had a son, Neoptolemus, with the Skyrian princess Deidameia, who met her when he was hidden in the Palace of the king Likomidis on the island on Skyros.
When the war against Troy was ignited by the kidnapping of Helen, Thetis learnt by an oracle that her son would not come back alive if he joined Agamemnon. The oracle had said that he would either die young and glorious, or reach old age in obscurity. Thetis then send Achilles to Skyros to the king Likomidis and disguise himself as a woman, thus becoming the first known cross-dresser, but unfortunately he was revealed by Odysseus and forced to join the army against Troy. Odysseus managed to reveal Achilles true identity by dressing as a merchant, then filling a cart with weapons, clothing and perfumes. While the women ran to see the clothes and perfumes, Achilles ran to the weapons. According to another version, Odysseus blew a horn, which made all the women flee except Achilles.
Achilles led a fleet of 50 ships with an army of warriors called the Myrmidons. When they arrived in Troy, they also conquered 12 cities by the sea and 11 on land. Achilles killed the queen of the Amazons, Penthelisea, but just as she died their eyes met and they both fell desperately in love.
After an argument with king Agamemnon, who had taken Briseis, a beautiful hostage, from Achilles – the hero was so upset that he pulled out of the war.
His absence from the battle field gave courage to the Trojans, who no longer having to face Achilles, began to gain ground and cause a lot of suffering to the Greeks. In vain Agamemnon and other Greeks begged him to take part in the battle and they sent gifts and slaves to persuade him to back his decision. But the entreaties from Agamemnon and the other Greeks were all in vain.
Eventually only the entreaties of his closest friend Patroclus made him retreat and gave him his great armour that was made by the god Hephaestus. to fool the Trojans, to think it was Achilles who took part in the battle. But Hector understood and the battle that followed killed Patroclus and Hector took the armour. So, Patroclus managed to trick the Trojans, who thought he was Achilles but not Hector. Hector had understood that he was not Achilles and during the battle that followed he killed him and took his armour.
Patroclus was his best friend and when he was killed by the Trojan hero Hector, Achilles was totally mortified. Homer describes how Achilles cut off his hair in mourning and lit the funeral pyre. As a revenge, Achilles killed Hector, dragged the body around the city. This fact and the disrespect towards the dead Hector angered the god Apollo who helped the Trojan prince Paris, Helen’s kidnapper with Aphrodite’s help, to shoot an arrow into Achilles only weak spot,: his heel.
Thetis and the Nine Muses attended Achilles funeral. In the underworld Achilles remained a leader, but it was not a happy existence. According to another version, the hero was taken to Elysium by his mother, where he married Helen or Medea. Yet another myth tells us that his shadow asked Polyxene to be present at his funeral. She was a Trojan princess who, despite him killing her brother, had fallen in love with Achilles. Polyxene went willingly to the funeral pyre, where the Greeks killed her.
Brief history of the Iliad
Nine years are supposed to have elapsed in desultory warfare, and the opening line of the poem, Sing, heavenly muse, the wrath of Peleus son, introduces Achilles, who has quarrelled with Agamemnon about a captive woman appropriated by the latter.
This has angered Apollo, and a pestilence is raging in the Greek camp. Agamemnon consents to restore his captive to her father, but insists that Achilles shall give up a woman named Briseis whom he has carried off.
Achilles complies, but appeals to his goddess mother, Thetis, who counsels him to nurse his wrath, and withdraw from the siege, whilst she intercedes with Jupiter, the king of the gods. However, Jupiter has gone to a festival of twelve days duration with the Ethiopians, and, when Thetis obtains an audience, he tells her that he dreads the taunts of his wife Hera, but pledges his promise to humiliate the Greeks.
Hera, however, has witnessed the interview, and a connubial dialogue ensues, in which she is silenced by the Thunderer. Hephaestus soothes his mother with nectar, and hands the cup round, whilst the gods and goddesses make fun of his hobbling gait.
Zeus sends a vision of Nestor to Agamemnon, urging him to storm the city. The king of men assembles his council, and, to test the temper of the army, proposes, before leading them to the assault, that they shall embark at once for home. They take him at his word and commence launching the galleys but Hera intervenes by sending Athens to bid Ulysses check their flight. He borrows the king’s sceptre and awes the crowd. Thersites alone raises his voice in defiance upon which Ulysses chastises him, and the Greeks laugh heartily as he writhes and howls. They are then addressed. by Ulysses and Nestor, and Agamemnon concludes the debate by a call to immediate battle. But first the troops are well fed, whilst Agamemnon gives a banquet to six of the chieftains, at which Menelaus is present. The king stands by the burnt offering, to which no omen is vouchsafed. Nevertheless, the army is set in array, and a long muster roll follows of the Greek clans on the one side, and of the Trojans and their allies on the other.
The battle begins the Trojans move forward with shouts and clashing weapons, the Greeks in silence. Godlike in his beauty, Paris advances alone from the Trojan ranks, and challenges the leaders of the Greeks to single combat. Menelaus springs from his chariot, exulting at the opportunity of gratifying his vengeance. But Paris starts back from the man he has wronged, and encounters Hector, who checks his retreat, ashamed at his cowardice, and Paris is induced by his brothers rebuke to accept the answer to his challenge. Helen is writing her own history when she is warned by the goddess Iris of the impending duel, and goes to the palace, where old King, Priam is sitting at the gate. Her beauty enchants every beholder, and all say it is no blame to fight for such. a woman, the spells of Venus are irresistible. She takes her place beside the king, and is pointing out to him the chiefs she is able to recognise, when he is summoned away to ratify the armistice. Then the lists are measured and the combat takes place. Menelaus has seized Paris by his crest, when Venus breaks the strap and he is left with the empty helmet in his hand, the goddess wrapping Paris in a mist and transporting him to Helens chamber. Her first exclamation is, ‘Back from the battle! Would thou there hadst died!’
but his misadventure is soon condoned.
Jupiter now suggests that Helen be given up, and the fate of Troy averted but Hera is furious, and he consents to leave the city to her will. She accordingly sends Athens to incite the Trojans to break the truce by tempting Pandarus to aim at Menelaus. The goddess, however, turns the arrow aside.
‘As when a mother from her infants’ cheek, wrapt in sweet slumbers, brushes off a fly.’
Nevertheless it has drawn blood, and Agamemnon fears his brother is mortally injured. Machaon, however, staunches the wound, and the Greek leaders being roused to avenge the treachery, their forces are marshalled, and Nestor counsels the dispositions of the line of battle, the plan of which is followed to the present day.
Again the two armies encounter each other, like two winter torrents mingling in a deep ravine. Then follows a series of single combats between warriors of note on either side, Athens cheering on the Greeks, and Apollo the Trojans. The gallant Diomede is hit by Pandarus, but the goddess heals the wound, and, returning to the contest, he kills his foe, and crushes the hip joint of Aeneas, who is screened from further harm by Venus. Diomede, however, wounds her in the palm, and she mounts to Olympus bewailing the injury she has suffered from a mortal. Her mother Dione consoles her by narrating how other deities have had to endure wrongs from men, whilst Apollo carries 1Eneas to be tended by Latona and Diana. Mars now calls Hector to the rescue, and Aeneas returns cured. The Greek line is giving way, when Hera and Athens alight on the battle plain.
The queen of the gods in form of Stentor of the brazen voice, reproaches the Greeks with cowardice, whilst Athens, taunting Diomed with his inferiority to his father Tydeus, who, though small in stature, was every inch a soldier, mounts his chariot against Mars, and the gods ichor being made to flow from a wound inflicted by Diomedes spear, he cries out with a shout like ten thousand men, and flies to Zeus who rates him soundly, but bids Poeon heal Mm, and Hebe prepares him a bath. The fight continues, and Diomedes encounters Glaucus, who, in answer to his inquiry, replies, Brave son of Tydeus
Glaucus, however, proceeds to announce himself as the grandson of Bellerophon, who rode Pegasus, and slew Chimmera, and Diomedes remembers that his grandfather was Bellerophons guest. So, instead of fighting, they exchange armour in token of amity.
The Trojans being hard pressed, Hector sends his mother, Hecuba, to offer prayers to Athena and finding Paris in the palace with Helen, upbraids him sharply. Hector passes on to see his wife Andromache and their child. She is not in the palace, but at the Scan gate, eagerly watching the battle. Clinging to her husband, she entreats him not to be too prodigal of his life, for she is the last of her race , but, she adds, “While my Hector still survives, I see my father, mother, brethren all in thee”.
He attempts to soothe her, but, with a foreboding of his fate, he says, spies who force from him the information they desire, and behead him, after which they make their way to the Thracian camp, assassinate the king and twelve of his warriors as they sleep, and carry off their snow-white steeds.
Next morning the battle is renewed, and the Greeks are very hard pressed. Achilles sends Patroclus to learn how they are faring, and Nestor begs him to persuade his master to come to the rescue. The Trojans charge the entrenchments, whilst an eagle drops a serpent in the midst of the combatants.
Hector makes the portent, saying, the best of omens is our country’s cause and the balance of the fight hangs even until he heaves a huge boulder, which bursts open the wooden gates of the Greek stockade, and as the Trojans rush in the Greeks flee in confusion to their ships. Neptune, however, in the form of the soothsayer Calchas, rallies them, and Hectors’ advance is checked. But the Greek ships are still in danger of being burnt, and a proposal to launch them and escape during the night is with difficulty over-ruled.
Hera now borrows from Venus her magic girdle, with which she diverts the attention of her husband, so that he may not help the Trojans, and Neptune leads the Greeks in person. Ajax meets Hector and hurls a stone against his breast, which disables him, and the Greeks rush to strip off his armour. The Trojan chiefs, however, shield him, and he is borne away to his chariot.
Zeus awakes in time to avert further danger from the Trojans, and, turning wrathfully on Hera, reminds her how he has punished her in former times, and explains his desire to teach the Greeks their utter helplessness without Achilles. For this purpose, Apollo is sent to revive Hector and accompany him back to the conflict. Flashing his shield in the faces of their adversaries, he clears a way for the Trojan chariots,
The struggle is renewed, and, as Hector attacks the galley in which Ajax stands at bay with an enormous pike, Teucer plies his arrows, and twelve Trojans are slain in their attempts to set the Greek ships on fire.
Achilles, who has been watching the peril of his countrymen, now consents that Patroclus shall go, clad in his armour, at the head of the Myrmidons, to aid them. The Trojans, believing it is Achilles himself who is leading, retreat in dismay, and Sarpedon, Jupiter’s son, is slain. But Patroclus ventures too far in pursuit Apollo meets and disarms him, Euphorbus stabs him from behind, and Hector drives his spear through his body. With his dying breath he foretells the fate of his slayer, and the Greeks succeed in carrying off his body, Zeus casting a veil of darkness around it.
The crisis of the story is now reached. Achilles is frantic with grief and rage at the death of his comrade, and eager to avenge him. His mother, Thetis, reminds him that when Hector falls his own last hour is near, but he replies, “Be it so, death comes in turn to all”. He cannot, however, go forth without armour, and his mother promises that Vulcan shall forge him a suit by to-morrows dawn.
Meanwhile, Iris bids him let the Trojans hear his voice, and, standing on the rampart, under the shield of Minerva, he shouts thrice aloud. They are seized with panic and abandon their pursuit of the Greeks, who bear off the corpse of Patroclus to Achilles tent.
Vulcan is making velocipedes and automaton helpers when Thetis applies to him, but he willingly accedes to her request on behalf of her son. The helmet and breast-plate and body gear are soon ready, but upon the shield he bestows his utmost skill, and the poet’s description of it is so graphic and elaborate that it will not bear condensing.
Thus, armed for the deadly fight, Achilles makes for the tent of Agamemnon, calling on the Greek leaders to make ready as he passes the galleys and he and the king, mutually admitting themselves to blame, are reconciled. Ulysses urges the need of a substantial meal for the army, from which Achilles sits apart, but is sustained by Minerva with ambrosia and nectar. When all is prepared for the battle he mounts his chariot, drawn by Xanthus and Balius, and bearing the ashen spear of Mount Pelion, the gift of the Centaur. Taunting his horses with the death of Patroclus, one of them, inspired by Juno, replies in human voice, and tells him that his own doom draws nigh.
Several of the gods and goddesses take part in this last conflict, some on the side of the Greeks, and some on the Trojan side. The principal interest, however, is centred in the heroic deeds and narrow escapes of Achilles, who dashes through the Trojan host, hewing many in pieces, driving others into the river Scamander, and forcing the remainder to take refuge within their walls, Hector alone remaining outside the Scxan gate, which is guarded by Apollo.
As Achilles draws near him, the Trojan hero’s courage wholly deserts him, and thrice he flies, with his adversary in pursuit. Then his guardian, Apollo, leaves him, and Minerva comes to the aid of her favourite. Hector now turns and challenges his foe, at the same time endeavouring to make a mutual agreement that the dead body of whoever of them is slain should be returned to his family, but Achilles rejects the proposal, and makes the first thrust. Hector rushes on him and falls mortally wounded by Achilles spear, beseeching that his father Priam may be allowed to ransom his corpse, and prophesying the death of his adversary when he obdurately refuses his prayer. Savagely, instead, Achilles fastens the body to his chariot, and drags it towards the Greek fleet, in sight of Priam and Andromache.
On reaching the ships he flings the corpse in the dust in front of Patrocluss bier and, whilst he sleeps after his exertions, the shade of his friend appears to chide him for leaving his body so long unburied.
Next day the funeral pile is built, and the burial rites are celebrated, twelve captive Trojan youths being slaughtered by Achilles himself, and their bodies added to the flaming heap with the other libations. Then followed the funeral games, consisting of chariot races, boxing matches, wrestling, foot races, a single combat with shield and spear, archery, and hurling the spear.
But the wrath and grief of Achilles are not yet appeased, and for twelve days he drags the body of Hector each morning three times round the tomb containing the ashes of Patroclus. At last Priam is led by Hermes to his tent, and the aged monarch, in an agony of supplication, succeeds in obtaining from him the corpse, which, after it has been washed and anointed, and clothed in costly raiment by Achilles orders, he carries back to Troy. The poem then concludes with a description of Hectors funeral rites, for the due celebration of which Achilles has spontaneously offered a twelve days truce.