Achilles’ Heel

Achilles is an ancient Greek hero, most noted for two things: his participation
in the Trojan War, and his tender heel. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, was predicted
to bear a child that would be stronger than his father. When Zeus and Poseidon discovered this fact, they both stopped actively pursuing Thetis.
Instead, Thetis married Peleus, and bore him a son, Achilles. When he was a young
child, his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx, the river that separated
the mortal world from the underworld. Dipping a mortal into the river was known
to create immortality in the person being dipped. She wanted to do this because,
although Achilles inherited the “god,” and therefore immortal, half from his mother,
his father was mortal, so Achilles too would be mortal. However, his mother held
on to his left heel while dipping him, thereby leaving him more vulnerable in that
particular area (and just a little bit mortal). Despite Achilles’ extreme talent
in battle, as well as his physical strength and endurance, his one weak area would
eventually prove to be fatal. During battle, a clever enemy shot at his left heel
with a poison arrow. This killed him, because that part of his foot was not protected
by the immortality of the river Styx.

As a child, Achilles showed a natural tendency to hunt, and both Athena and Artemis
were impressed with his growing talent. However, with this talent came the prophecy
that Achilles would either be glorious and die early, or not be glorious and live
a long life. Achilles chose the former option, knowing he would not return from
the Trojan War alive. Before going to battle, Achilles’ mother sent him to the island
of Skyros, disguised as a female, to avoid the prophecy that he would die in the
war. A seer predicted that the Greeks would not win without the help of Achilles,
so Odysseus sought him out from his hiding place on the island. Achilles then joined
the Greeks. He led the Myrmidones and Achaeans in battle against Troy. Achilles
was favored by both Athena, goddess of War, and Hera. After ten years of fighting,
Achilles got into an argument with Agamemnon, and refused to continue fighting.

One of Achilles’ most famous battles was against the Trojan hero Hector. After chasing
Hector around the perimeter of Troy several times, Achilles killed Hector and then
proceeded to tie him to a chariot and run it out to sea.

Achilles died before Troy was overtaken by the Greeks. The Iliad does not
mention his death, but the Odyssey expressly mentions it. His killer is not
named in some accounts; in others, it is Paris. The remains of his body were burned
and, along with the remains of his friend, Patroclus, were buried in an urn near
Hellespont. People continued to pay tribute to his burial site.

In literature, Achilles was loved and admired, and readers met his tale with a deep
sense of sympathy. He is seen as a courageous, handsome Greek, sent unfairly to
die in war. He is affectionate with others, including friends and family. He is
considered fearless though vengeful, and extracting anger upon others is often referenced
in his myths. However, he always remains obedient to the gods.

In today’s modern language, an “Achilles heel” is a weak spot, or a spot that, if
tampered with, could cause great harm to the person in possession of said heel.
The Achilles tendon is also a muscle running through the back of the calf of one’s
leg, and into the ankle. It’s unlikely that one would ever die from an arrow wound
here; however, the arrow that slayed the Greek Achilles was said to have been coated
with poison.

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