Achilles, Hero of the Greek Invasion

Do you ever wonder where the term “Achilles heel” comes from? Achilles is one of the most widely know people in Greek Mythology, and gives reason to why the tendon in the human heel is named after him. He knew how to use his gifted abilities to lead the Greeks in the invasion of Troy, and did not give in to opposing forces until his death. Without Achilles leadership in the Greek invasion, they may not have been so successful.

external image final%20achilles.jpgAchilles was everything but an ordinary man. He was the respectable King of Phthia, and a fierce warrior when commencing in battle. He possessed an excessive amount of strength and wore the armor forged by none other than Hephaestus, which made him a formidable opponent for those who dared to challenge him. One of these foes was Hector. Hector had desired the death of Achilles, who was the strongest warrior during the Greek invasion of Troy (Hector’s homeland), but was not successful. In the end, it was Achilles who seized the life of Hector, much to Hector’s chagrin. Why was Achilles able to do so? In addition to his superior strength and skills, he was also semi-immortal. This immortality helped Achilles in his victorious battle with Hector, reinforcing the idea that Achilles was a truly vicious warrior. (Williams 18) (Bancroft 13)

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Achilles being dipped into the River Styx by his mother, Thetis

In order to first understand how Achilles came to be the way he was, we must first venture into his early years. Before Achilles became the King of Phthia and such a great warrior, it was his mother, Thetis, who desired his immortality. She did not want to settle for a mortal child, so she took it upon herself to seek the immortality of her son. Thetis took Achilles to the river Styx, which is a river of immortality, and dipped him head-first in it. The majority of his body became immortal from this procedure. However, the one part of Achilles body that remained mortal was his left ankle. Since Thetis had not taken the extra step to assure that the ankle which she covered while dipping him was also dipped, Achilles became only semi-immortal. This, in the end, proves to be fatal for the great warrior Achilles. (Thomas)

Despite Achilles’ semi-immortality and extreme strength and power, he did not have a desire to fight in the Trojan War. For the beginning, he actually did not fight. However, when the death of his friend Patroclus occurred, Achilles rushed to the battlefield. When he finally decided to fight, he became one of the leading forces of the Greek invasion, fighting ruthlessly and courageously. It is possible that, had Achilles not participated in the Trojan War, that the Greeks may not have grasped victory over Troy. Reinforcement of this idea comes with the occurrence of Achilles taking the life of the Trojan’s leader, Hector. This was by far Achilles greatest accomplishment while fighting in the Trojan War, as he destroyed a large part of the Trojan force’s leadership, which allowed the Greeks to eventually succeed in their battle against Troy. (Bulloch)

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Achilles' heel when being shot by Paris's deadly arrow
How could Achilles possibly be killed if he were immortal? The only way is by a wound to his left heel. However, Achilles’ enemies knew of such weakness. Many had attempted to take Achilles’ life, but without succession. The leader of the Trojan army, Hector, decided that he would be able to finally defeat Achilles in battle, and succeeded – so he thought. After meeting the man dressed up in Achilles’ armor as a disguise and killing him, Hector realized the man was not Achilles, but was really Achilles close friend Patroclus. Achilles, when informed of such event, was extremely enraged and wished the death of Hector, to avenge the death of Patroclus. Such death he attained, defeating Hector by jabbing him with a spear in the jugular. After this occurred, Achilles realized his death was soon to come. He was right, as Paris killed Achilles with an arrow guided by Apollo. Apollo, knowing of Achilles’ weakness, guides the arrow straight to his left heel, taking his life almost immediately. (Encyclopedia Mythica Online)

The phrase “Achilles’ heel” is a phrase heard by most everyone at some point in their lifetime. Does everyone ever wonder why it is named the way it is? The answer, that not so many may know, is that it was named after the heel where Achilles was shot with a fatal arrow. Because that was the only place of mortality, it was the one weak spot Achilles had. Therefore, we name our tendon after Achilles because he gave significance to such part of the body. The actual definition in modern English literature is “area of weakness; vulnerable spot”. (Askville )

Achilles may have been an outstanding warrior, but in the end it was a combination of his weakness and his boldness that he would fall. A deeper meaning can be derived from Achilles life, however. No matter how perfect you think you are, there will always be a flaw.



Works Cited

"Achilles". Encyclopedia Mythica. 07 12 2011 <http://www.panthenon.org/articles/a/achilles.html>.
Askville . Where did Achilles Tendon get it's name? 11 12 2011 <http://askville.amazon.com/achilles-Tendon/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=273913>.
Bancroft, Norman Hunt. Living in Ancient Greece. New York: Chelsea House, 2008.
Bulloch, Anthony. "The Real Achilles" Ancient Greek Mythology. 2004. 07 12 2011 <http://www.greekmyth.org/Achilles.htm>.
Thomas, Roy. Achilles (Greek Hero) index (main). Mar.-Apr. 2006. 07 12 2011 <http://marvunapp.com/Appendix/achilles.htm>.
Williams, Jean Kinney. Great Empires of the Past: Empires of Ancient Greece. New York: Facts on file inc., 2005.