Skip to main content
Select Source:

Achilles

Achilles (əkĬl´ēz), in Greek mythology, foremost Greek hero of the Trojan War, son of Peleus and Thetis. He was a formidable warrior, possessing fierce and uncontrollable anger. Thetis, knowing that Achilles was fated to die at Troy, disguised him as a girl and hid him among the women at the court of King Lycomedes of Skyros. He was discovered there by Odysseus, who persuaded him to go to Troy. One of Lycomedes' daughters, Deidamia, bore Achilles a son, Neoptolemus. According to Homer, Achilles came to Troy leading the 50 ships of the Myrmidons. In the last year of the siege, when Agamemnon stole the captive princess Briseis from him, Achilles angrily withdrew and took his troops from the war. Later he allowed his friend and lover Patroclus to borrow his armor and lead the Myrmidons to aid the retreating Greeks. When Hector killed Patroclus, Achilles was filled with grief and rage and returned to the battle, routed the Trojans, and killed Hector, viciously dragging his body back to the Greek camp. Achilles died of a wound inflicted by Paris. According to one legend, Thetis attempted to make Achilles immortal by bathing him in the river Styx, but the heel by which she held him remained vulnerable, and Paris inflicted a fatal wound in that heel. Other legends state that Achilles was struck from behind and killed by Paris when he went to visit Priam's daughter Polyxena, with whom he had fallen in love. Achilles, the object of widespread hero worship, is the main character of Homer's epic The Iliad.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Achilles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Achilles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achilles

"Achilles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achilles

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Achilles

Achilles in Greek mythology, a hero of the Trojan War, son of Peleus and Thetis. During his infancy his mother plunged him in the Styx, thus making his body invulnerable except for the heel by which she held him: this was where in the end he was to be mortally wounded. The term Achilles' heel, for a person's only vulnerable spot, comes from this story, as does the name Achilles tendon for the tendon attaching the calf to the heel muscle.

When the expedition to Troy was mounted, Thetis tried to protect her son by putting him in the charge of the centaur Chiron on the island of Scyros. Odysseus, visiting the island in search of him, found only what appeared to be a group of women, but when a battle-cry was heard one of the girls, the disguised Achilles, revealed himself by seizing sword and shield.

During the Trojan War Achilles withdrew from fighting following a bitter quarrel with Agamemnon. After his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles re-entered the battle and killed Hector but was later wounded in the heel by an arrow shot by Paris and died. His armour was seen as an emblem of valour; when it was awarded to Odysseus, Ajax committed suicide.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Achilles." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Achilles." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/achilles

"Achilles." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/achilles

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Achilles

Achilles In the Greek epic tradition, a formidable warrior, the most fearless Greek fighter of the Trojan War and the hero of Homer's Iliad. Legend held him invulnerable from weapons because he had been dipped by his mother, Thetis, in the River Styx at birth, except for the heel by which he was held. Achilles sought glory fighting at Troy, but an arrow shot by Paris struck his heel and killed him.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Achilles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Achilles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achilles

"Achilles." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achilles

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Achilles

Achilles •Andes •Hades, Mercedes •Archimedes • Thucydides • aphides •Eumenides, ParmenidesMaimonides, Simonides •Euripides • cantharides • Hesperides •Hebrides •Aristides, bona fides •Culdees •Alcibiades, Hyades, Pleiades •Cyclades • antipodes • Sporades •Ganges • Apelles •tales, ThalesAchilles, Antilles •Los Angeles • Ramillies • Pericles •isosceles • Praxiteles • Hercules •Empedocles • Sophocles • Damocles •Androcles • Heracles • Themistocles •Hermes • Menes • testudines •Diogenes • Cleisthenes •Demosthenes •Aristophanes, Xenophanes •manganese • Holofernes • editiones principes • herpes •lares, primus inter pares •Antares, Ares, Aries, caries •antifreeze • Ceres • Buenos Aires

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Achilles." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Achilles." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/achilles-0

"Achilles." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/achilles-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Achilles

Achilles

Nationality/Culture

Greek

Pronunciation

uh-KILL-eez

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Homer's Iliad, tales of the Trojan War

Lineage

Son of Peleus and the nymph Thetis

Character Overview

Achilles (pronounced uh-KILL-eez) is one of the most important warriors in Greek mythology. He had strength, bravery, military skills, pride, and honor—all qualities that the ancient Greeks prized as manly virtues. Yet his behavior was also shaped by anger, stubbornness, and revenge. The conflict between Achilles' larger-than-life virtues and his all-too-human weaknesses plays an important part in the heroic tragedy of the Iliad.

Like many mythological heroes , Achilles was part human and part supernatural being. His parents were Peleus (pronounced pe-LAY-uhs), a king of Thessaly in northern Greece, and a sea nymph named Thetis (pronounced THEE-tis). According to Homer, Thetis raised both Achilles and his closest friend and companion, Patroclus (pronounced pa-TROH-kluhs).

According to legend, Achilles' mother Thetis tried to make her infant son invulnerable (incapable of being wounded, injured, or harmed) by dipping him into the river Styx, which flowed through the underworld , or land of the dead. Afterward, no sword or arrow could pierce Achilles wherever the Styx's water had touched him. However, the water did not touch the heel by which Thetis held Achilles, so this remained the only vulnerable spot on his body. This myth is the source of the term Achilles' heel, which refers to a person's most notable weakness.

Achilles' strength and athletic superiority emerged early. At age six, he could run fast enough to catch deer. Some myths say that Achilles learned to run from the centaur Chiron (pronounced KYE-ron), who also taught him music, medicine, and the skills of warfare. According to some legends, Achilles was destined from birth to suffer one of two fates: a long life without glory, or a glorious death in battle.

The Trojan War Achilles played a central role in the Trojan War. The Trojan War was a ten-year conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans. The war began when the Trojan prince Paris kidnapped a beautiful Greek queen named Helen. Her husband, King Menelaus, pulled together a large army and chased Paris and Helen, tracking them to the city of Troy. The Greek army camped outside of the city walls and laid siege (engaged in a persistent attack against the city) to Troy for ten years.

When the Trojan War began, Achilles' parents tried to keep him from joining the Greek forces against the Trojans in order to prevent the prophecy regarding his death in battle from coming true. But the Greeks felt they needed Achilles to fight with them because they had received a prophecy that they could not defeat the Trojans without him. They therefore sent the Greek leader Odysseus (pronounced oh-DIS-ee-uhs) to persuade Achilles to join the war. Achilles agreed to fight with them—even though he knew his choice might cost him his life—because he valued glory in battle more than a quiet existence in peace.

Achilles did indeed earn great glory in battle against the Trojans. Throughout the ten-year siege he killed many Trojans and struck fear into the hearts of the Trojan forces. The Trojans were helpless against his mighty strength and his invulnerability to weapons. He was, however, an extremely proud warrior; when he felt that he had been insulted by the leader of the Greek forces, Agamemnon , he refused to fight for the Greeks. He only returned to the fight when his friend Patroclus died at the hands of the great Trojan warrior Hector.

Achilles rushed into battle in a furious desire to avenge the death of Patroclus. He chased Hector around the walls of Troy three times before killing the Trojan prince in one-on-one combat. He then dragged the body behind his chariot for nine days, which prevented the Trojans from holding a proper funeral. The gods forced Achilles to surrender the body of Hector to his grieving father, King Priam of Troy. Soon after, Achilles was killed on the batdefield when he was struck in his vulnerable heel by an arrow fired by Hector's brother, Paris.

Achilles in Context

The Trojan War in which Achilles fought was a struggle between two different groups—the Greeks and the Trojans—over Helen, who was a symbol of Greek pride as the most beautiful woman in the world. Modern-day scholars do not know for sure just how much of the story of the Trojan War is fiction, but the story reflects the reality of living in a time period when the ancient Greeks were frequently in conflict with nearby regions for control of land and resources. The warrior culture of ancient times arose from the need to protect land used for farming or keeping animals. Warriors also conquered more land when poor farming conditions or conflict with other peoples made moving necessary. Young men were trained in warrior skills as well as in the warrior code of honor and glory. Under the command of Alexander the Great, the Greeks succeeded on the battlefield and spread their empire across much of what is now the Middle East and western Asia. In an oral culture such as ancient Greece, the tales of battles and heroism passed on from generation to generation highlighted the importance of heroic deeds and glory.

The glory Achilles achieves does not make him a perfect example of a Greek man, however. His pride causes him to put himself above that of the army in which he fights, and results in both heavy Greek losses in battle and the death of his own best friend Patroclus. This flaw in the character of Achilles reflects the importance of the group over that of an individual to the ancient Greeks. In ancient Greek society, life was so difficult that people relied heavily on their social relationships in order to survive; one person acting for his or her own interests rather than that of the group could bring about the downfall of everyone.

Key Themes and Symbols

Achilles represents the ultimate warrior, seeking glory through his skills as a soldier. He chooses to die on the battlefield, knowing his heroic deeds will be remembered forever, rather than live a long, unremarkable life away from battle.

Another theme of the story of Achilles is revenge. After having an argument with Agamemnon, Achilles gets his revenge on the king by refusing to fight. This leads to the death of Patroclus, which prompts Achilles to seek revenge against his friend's killer, Hector. After Achilles kills Hector, Paris seeks revenge against Achilles for the death of his brother.

Achilles in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Achilles and his story have appeared in many forms over the centuries. In addition to being the main character of Homer's Iliad, he was the subject of several plays written by Greek dramatists Aeschylus (pronounced ES-kuh-lus) and Sophocles (pronounced SOF-uh-kleez). During the Renaissance, he was featured as a character in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, and appears in modern works such as Disney's animated television series Hercules (1998).

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Achilles is faced with a choice between two destinies: he can die young but with great glory, or he can live long but be forgotten when he is gone. Achilles chooses glory. In the modern world, some terrorists—such as suicide bombers—are willing to sacrifice their lives for great glory and rewards they believe they will receive in the afterlife. How do you think these terrorists are different from or similar to Achilles?

SEE ALSO Agamemnon; Greek Mythology; Heroes; Iliad, The; Odyssey, The

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Achilles." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Achilles." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achilles

"Achilles." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/achilles

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.