Achilles in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

(Ἀχιλλεύς). In the legends about Achilles, as about all the heroes of the Trojan war, the Homeric traditions should be carefully kept apart from the various additions and embellishments with which the gaps of the ancient story have been filled up by later poets and mythographers, not indeed by fabrications of their own, but by adopting those supplementary details, by which oral tradition in the course of centuries had variously altered and developed the original kernel of the story, or those accounts which were peculiar only to certain localities. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Homeric story. Achilles was the son of Peleus, king of the Myrmidones in Phthiotis, in Thessaly, and of the Nereid Thetis. (Hom. Il. 20.206, &c.) From his father's name he is often called Πηλείδης, Πηληϊάδης, or Πηλείων (Hom. Il. 18.316; 1.1; 1.197; Verg. A. 2.263), and from that of his grandfather Aeacus, he derived his name Aeacides (Αἰακίδης, Il. 2.860; Verg. A. 1.99). He was educated from his tender childhood by Phoenix, who taught him eloquence and the arts of war, and accompanied him to the Trojan war, and to whom the hero always shewed great attachment. (9.485, &c.; 438, &c.) In the healing art he was instructed by Cheiron, the centaur. (11.832.) His mother Thetis foretold him that his fate was either to gain glory and die early, or to live a long but inglorious life. (9.410,&c.) The hero chose the latter, and took part in the Trojan war, from which he knew that he was not to return. In fifty ships, or according to later traditions, in sixty (Hyg. Fab. 97), he led his hosts of Myrmidones, Hellenes, and Achaeans against Troy. (2.681, &c., 16.168.) Here the swift-footed Achilles was the great bulwark of the Greeks, and the worthy favourite of Athena and Hera. (1.195, 208.) Previous to his dispute with Agamemnon, he ravaged the country around Troy, and destroyed twelve towns on the coast and eleven in the interior of the country. (9.328, &c.) When Agamemnon was obliged to give up Chryseis to her father, he threatened to take away Briseis from Achilles, who surrendered her on the persuasion of Athena, but at the same time refused to take any further part in the war, and shut himself up in his tent. Zeus, on the entreaty of Thetis, promised that victory should be on the side of the Trojans, until the Achaeans should have honoured her son. (1.26, to the end.) The affairs of the Greeks declined in consequence, and they were at last pressed so hard, that Agamemnon advised them to take to flight. (9.17, &c.) But other chiefs opposed this counsel, and an embassy was sent to Achilles, offering him rich presents and the restoration of Briseis (9.119, &c.); but in vain. At last, however, he was persuaded by Patroclus, his dearest friend, to allow him to make use of his men, his horses, and his armour. (16.49, &c.) Patroclus was slain, and when this news reached Achilles, he was seized with unspeakable grief. Thetis consoled him, and promised new arms, which were to be made by Hephaestus, and Iris appeared to rouse him from his lamentations, and exhorted him to rescue the body of Patroclus. (18.166, &c.) Achilles now rose, and his thundering voice alone put the Trojans to flight. When his new armour was brought to him, he reconciled himself to Agamemnon, and hurried to the field of battle, disdaining to take any drink or food until the death of his friend should be avenged. (19.155, &c.) He wounded and slew numbers of Trojans (xx. xxi.), and at length met Hector, whom he chased thrice around the walls of the city. He then slew him, tied his body to his chariot, and dragged him to the ships of the Greeks. (xxii.) After this, he burnt the body of Patroclus, together with twelve young captive Trojans, who were sacrificed to appease the spirit of his friend; and subsequently gave up the body of Hector to Priam, who came in person to beg for it. (xxiii. xxiv.) Achilles himself fell in the battle at the Scaean gate, before Troy was taken. His death itself does not occur in the Iliad, but it is alluded to in a few passages. (22.358, &c., 21.278, &c.) It is expressly mentioned in the Odyssey (24.36), &c.), where it is said that his fall--his conqueror is not mentioned--was lamented by gods and men, that his remains together with those of Patroclus were buried in a golden urn which Dionysus had given as a present to Thetis, and were deposited in a place on the coast of the Hellespont, where a mound was raised over them. Achilles is the principal hero of the Iliad, and the poet dwells upon the delineation of his character with love and admiration, feelings in which his readers cannot but sympathise with him. Achilles is the handsomest and bravest of all the Greeks; he is affectionate towards his mother and his friends, formidable in battles, which are his delight; open-hearted and without fear, and at the same time susceptible to the gentle and quiet joys of home. His greatest passion is ambition, and when his sense of honour is hurt, he is unrelenting in his revenge and anger, but withal submits obediently to the will of the gods. - A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology William Smith, Ed.