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In Greek mythology, Achilles (// ə-KIL-eez) or Achilleus (Ancient Greek: Ἀχιλλεύς, [a.kʰilˈleu̯s]) was a hero of the Trojan War, the greatest of all the Greek warriors, and is the central character of Homer's Iliad. He was the son of the Nereid Thetis and Peleus, king of Phthia.
Achilles' most notable feat during the Trojan War was the slaying of the Trojan prince Hector outside the gates of Troy. Although the death of Achilles is not presented in the Iliad, other sources concur that he was killed near the end of the Trojan War by Paris, who shot him in the heel with an arrow. Later legends (beginning with Statius' unfinished epic Achilleid, written in the 1st century AD) state that Achilles was invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel because, when his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx as an infant, she held him by one of his heels. Alluding to these legends, the term "Achilles' heel" has come to mean a point of weakness, especially in someone or something with an otherwise strong constitution. The Achilles tendon is also named after him due to these legends.
Linear B tablets attest to the personal name Achilleus in the forms a-ki-re-u and a-ki-re-we, the latter being the dative of the former. The name grew more popular, even becoming common soon after the seventh century BC and was also turned into the female form Ἀχιλλεία (Achilleía), attested in Attica in the fourth century BC (IG II² 1617) and, in the form Achillia, on a stele in Halicarnassus as the name of a female gladiator fighting an "Amazon".
Achilles' name can be analyzed as a combination of ἄχος (áchos) "distress, pain, sorrow, grief" and λαός (laós) "people, soldiers, nation", resulting in a proto-form *Akhí-lāu̯os "he who has the people distressed" or "he whose people have distress". The grief or distress of the people is a theme raised numerous times in the Iliad (and frequently by Achilles himself). Achilles' role as the hero of grief or distress forms an ironic juxtaposition with the conventional view of him as the hero of κλέος kléos ("glory", usually in war). Furthermore, laós has been construed by Gregory Nagy, following Leonard Palmer, to mean "a corps of soldiers", a muster. With this derivation, the name obtains a double meaning in the poem: when the hero is functioning rightly, his men bring distress to the enemy, but when wrongly, his men get the grief of war. The poem is in part about the misdirection of anger on the part of leadership.
Another etymology relates the name to a Proto-Indo-European compound *h₂eḱ-pṓds "sharp foot" which first gave an Illyrian *āk̂pediós, evolving through time into *ākhpdeós and then *akhiddeús. The shift from -dd- to -ll- is then ascribed to the passing of the name into Greek via a Pre-Greek source. The first root part *h₂eḱ- "sharp, pointed" also gave Greek ἀκή (akḗ "point, silence, healing"), ἀκμή (akmḗ "point, edge, zenith") and ὀξύς (oxús "sharp, pointed, keen, quick, clever"), whereas ἄχος stems from the root *h₂egʰ- "to be upset, afraid". The whole expression would be comparable to the Latin acupedius "swift of foot". Compare also the Latin word family of aciēs "sharp edge or point, battle line, battle, engagement", acus "needle, pin, bodkin", and acuō "to make pointed, sharpen, whet; to exercise; to arouse" (whence acute). Some topical epitheta of Achilles in the Iliad point to this "swift-footedness", namely ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς (podárkēs dĩos Achilleús "swift-footed divine Achilles") or, even more frequently, πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς (pódas ōkús Achilleús "quick-footed Achilles").
Some researchers deem the name a loan word, possibly from a Pre-Greek language. Achilles' descent from the Nereid Thetis and a similarity of his name with those of river deities such as Acheron and Achelous have led to speculations about him being an old water divinity (see below Worship). Robert S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek origin of the name, based among other things on the coexistence of -λλ- and -λ- in epic language, which may account for a palatalized phoneme /ly/ in the original language.
Achilles was the son of the Nereid Thetis and of Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons. Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals for the hand of Thetis until Prometheus, the fore-thinker, warned Zeus of a prophecy (originally uttered by Themis, goddess of divine law) that Thetis would bear a son greater than his father. For this reason, the two gods withdrew their pursuit, and had her wed Peleus.
There is a tale which offers an alternative version of these events: In the Argonautica (4.760) Zeus' sister and wife Hera alludes to Thetis' chaste resistance to the advances of Zeus, pointing out that Thetis was so loyal to Hera's marriage bond that she coolly rejected the father of gods. Thetis, although a daughter of the sea-god Nereus, was also brought up by Hera, further explaining her resistance to the advances of Zeus. Zeus was furious and decreed that she would never marry an immortal.
According to the Achilleid, written by Statius in the 1st century AD, and to non-surviving previous sources, when Achilles was born Thetis tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx; however, he was left vulnerable at the part of the body by which she held him: his left heel (see Achilles' heel, Achilles' tendon). It is not clear if this version of events was known earlier. In another version of this story, Thetis anointed the boy in ambrosia and put him on top of a fire in order to burn away the mortal parts of his body. She was interrupted by Peleus and abandoned both father and son in a rage.
None of the sources before Statius make any reference to this general invulnerability. To the contrary, in the Iliad Homer mentions Achilles being wounded: in Book 21 the Paeonian hero Asteropaeus, son of Pelagon, challenged Achilles by the river Scamander. He cast two spears at once, one grazed Achilles' elbow, "drawing a spurt of blood".
Also, in the fragmentary poems of the Epic Cycle in which one can find description of the hero's death (i.e. the Cypria, the Little Iliad by Lesches of Pyrrha, the Aithiopis and Iliou persis by Arctinus of Miletus), there is no trace of any reference to his general invulnerability or his famous weakness at the heel; in the later vase paintings presenting the death of Achilles, the arrow (or in many cases, arrows) hit his torso.
Peleus entrusted Achilles to Chiron the Centaur, on Mount Pelion, to be reared. Thetis foretold that her son's fate was either to gain glory and die young, or to live a long but uneventful life in obscurity. Achilles chose the former, and decided to take part in the Trojan war. According to Homer, Achilles grew up in Phthia together with his companion Patroclus.
According to Photius, the sixth book of the New History by Ptolemy Hephaestion reported that Thetis burned in a secret place the children she had by Peleus; but when she had Achilles, Peleus noticed, tore him from the flames with only a burnt foot, and confided him to the centaur Chiron. Later Chiron exhumed the body of the Damysus, who was the fastest of all the giants, removed the ankle, and incorporated it into Achilles' burnt foot.
Among the appellations under which Achilles is generally known are the following:
Some post-Homeric sources claim that in order to keep Achilles safe from the war, Thetis (or, in some versions, Peleus) hid the young man at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. There, Achilles is disguised as a girl and lives among Lycomedes' daughters, perhaps under the name "Pyrrha" (the red-haired girl). With Lycomedes' daughter Deidamia, whom in the account of Statius he rapes, Achilles there fathers a son, Neoptolemus (also called Pyrrhus, after his father's possible alias). According to this story, Odysseus learns from the prophet Calchas that the Achaeans would be unable to capture Troy without Achilles' aid. Odysseus goes to Skyros in the guise of a peddler selling women's clothes and jewellery and places a shield and spear among his goods. When Achilles instantly takes up the spear, Odysseus sees through his disguise and convinces him to join the Greek campaign. In another version of the story, Odysseus arranges for a trumpet alarm to be sounded while he was with Lycomedes' women; while the women flee in panic, Achilles prepares to defend the court, thus giving his identity away.
According to the Iliad, Achilles arrived at Troy with 50 ships, each carrying 50 Myrmidons. He appointed five leaders (each leader commanding 500 Myrmidons): Menesthius, Eudorus, Peisander, Phoenix and Alcimedon.
When the Greeks left for the Trojan War, they accidentally stopped in Mysia, ruled by King Telephus. In the resulting battle, Achilles gave Telephus a wound that would not heal; Telephus consulted an oracle, who stated that "he that wounded shall heal". Guided by the oracle, he arrived at Argos, where Achilles healed him in order that he might become their guide for the voyage to Troy.
According to other reports in Euripides' lost play about Telephus, he went to Aulis pretending to be a beggar and asked Achilles to heal his wound. Achilles refused, claiming to have no medical knowledge. Alternatively, Telephus held Orestes for ransom, the ransom being Achilles' aid in healing the wound. Odysseus reasoned that the spear had inflicted the wound; therefore, the spear must be able to heal it. Pieces of the spear were scraped off onto the wound and Telephus was healed.
According to the Cypria (the part of the Epic Cycle that tells the events of the Trojan War before Achilles' wrath), when the Achaeans desired to return home, they were restrained by Achilles, who afterwards attacked the cattle of Aeneas, sacked neighbouring cities (like Pedasus and Lyrnessus, where the Greeks capture the queen Briseis) and killed Tenes, a son of Apollo, as well as Priam's son Troilus in the sanctuary of Apollo Thymbraios; however, the romance between Troilus and Chryseis described in Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and in William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida is a medieval invention.
In Dares Phrygius' Account of the Destruction of Troy, the Latin summary through which the story of Achilles was transmitted to medieval Europe, as well as in older accounts, Troilus was a young Trojan prince, the youngest of King Priam's and Hecuba's five legitimate sons (or according other sources, another son of Apollo). Despite his youth, he was one of the main Trojan war leaders, a "horse fighter" or "chariot fighter" according to Homer. Prophecies linked Troilus' fate to that of Troy and so he was ambushed in an attempt to capture him. Yet Achilles, struck by the beauty of both Troilus and his sister Polyxena, and overcome with lust, directed his sexual attentions on the youth – who, refusing to yield, instead found himself decapitated upon an altar-omphalos of Apollo Thymbraios. Later versions of the story suggested Troilus was accidentally killed by Achilles in an over-ardent lovers' embrace. In this version of the myth, Achilles' death therefore came in retribution for this sacrilege. Ancient writers treated Troilus as the epitome of a dead child mourned by his parents. Had Troilus lived to adulthood, the First Vatican Mythographer claimed, Troy would have been invincible; however, the motif is older and found already in Plautus' Bacchides.
Homer's Iliad is the most famous narrative of Achilles' deeds in the Trojan War. Achilles' wrath (μῆνις Ἀχιλλέως, mênis Achilléōs) is the central theme of the poem. The first two lines of the Iliad read:
|Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί' Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε' ἔθηκε, [...]
|Sing, Goddess, of the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,|
the accursed rage that brought great suffering to the Achaeans, [...]
The Homeric epic only covers a few weeks of the decade-long war, and does not narrate Achilles' death. It begins with Achilles' withdrawal from battle after being dishonoured by Agamemnon, the commander of the Achaean forces. Agamemnon has taken a woman named Chryseis as his slave. Her father Chryses, a priest of Apollo, begs Agamemnon to return her to him. Agamemnon refuses, and Apollo sends a plague amongst the Greeks. The prophet Calchas correctly determines the source of the troubles but will not speak unless Achilles vows to protect him. Achilles does so, and Calchas declares that Chryseis must be returned to her father. Agamemnon consents, but then commands that Achilles' battle prize Briseis, the daughter of Briseus, be brought to him to replace Chryseis. Angry at the dishonour of having his plunder and glory taken away (and, as he says later, because he loves Briseis), with the urging of his mother Thetis, Achilles refuses to fight or lead his troops alongside the other Greek forces. At the same time, burning with rage over Agamemnon's theft, Achilles prays to Thetis to convince Zeus to help the Trojans gain ground in the war, so that he may regain his honour.
As the battle turns against the Greeks, thanks to the influence of Zeus, Nestor declares that the Trojans are winning because Agamemnon has angered Achilles, and urges the king to appease the warrior. Agamemnon agrees and sends Odysseus and two other chieftains, Ajax and Phoenix, to Achilles with the offer of the return of Briseis and other gifts. Achilles rejects all Agamemnon offers him and simply urges the Greeks to sail home as he was planning to do.
The Trojans, led by Hector, subsequently push the Greek army back toward the beaches and assault the Greek ships. With the Greek forces on the verge of absolute destruction, Patroclus leads the Myrmidons into battle, wearing Achilles' armour, though Achilles remains at his camp. Patroclus succeeds in pushing the Trojans back from the beaches, but is killed by Hector before he can lead a proper assault on the city of Troy.
After receiving the news of the death of Patroclus from Antilochus, the son of Nestor, Achilles grieves over his beloved companion's death. His mother Thetis comes to comfort the distraught Achilles. She persuades Hephaestus to make new armour for him, in place of the armour that Patroclus had been wearing, which was taken by Hector. The new armour includes the Shield of Achilles, described in great detail in the poem.
Enraged over the death of Patroclus, Achilles ends his refusal to fight and takes the field, killing many men in his rage but always seeking out Hector. Achilles even engages in battle with the river god Scamander, who has become angry that Achilles is choking his waters with all the men he has killed. The god tries to drown Achilles but is stopped by Hera and Hephaestus. Zeus himself takes note of Achilles' rage and sends the gods to restrain him so that he will not go on to sack Troy itself before the time allotted for its destruction, seeming to show that the unhindered rage of Achilles can defy fate itself. Finally, Achilles finds his prey. Achilles chases Hector around the wall of Troy three times before Athena, in the form of Hector's favorite and dearest brother, Deiphobus, persuades Hector to stop running and fight Achilles face to face. After Hector realizes the trick, he knows the battle is inevitable. Wanting to go down fighting, he charges at Achilles with his only weapon, his sword, but misses. Accepting his fate, Hector begs Achilles, not to spare his life, but to treat his body with respect after killing him. Achilles tells Hector it is hopeless to expect that of him, declaring that "my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw – such agonies you have caused me". Achilles then kills Hector and drags his corpse by its heels behind his chariot. After having a dream where Patroclus begs Achilles to hold his funeral, Achilles hosts a series of funeral games in his honour.
At the onset of his duel with Hector, Achilles is referred to as the brightest star in the sky, which comes on in the autumn, Orion's dog (Sirius); a sign of evil. During the cremation of Patroclus, he is compared to Hesperus, the evening/western star (Venus), while the burning of the funeral pyre lasts until Phosphorus, the morning/eastern star (also Venus) has set (descended).
With the assistance of the god Hermes (Argeiphontes), Hector's father Priam goes to Achilles' tent to plead with Achilles for the return of Hector's body so that he can be buried. Achilles relents and promises a truce for the duration of the funeral, lasting 9 days with a burial on the 10th (in the tradition of Niobe's offspring). The poem ends with a description of Hector's funeral, with the doom of Troy and Achilles himself still to come.
The Aethiopis (7th century BC) and a work named Posthomerica, composed by Quintus of Smyrna in the fourth century AD, relate further events from the Trojan War. When Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons and daughter of Ares, arrives in Troy, Priam hopes that she will defeat Achilles. After his temporary truce with Priam, Achilles fights and kills the warrior queen, only to grieve over her death later. At first, he was so distracted by her beauty, he did not fight as intensely as usual. Once he realized that his distraction was endangering his life, he refocused and killed her.
Following the death of Patroclus, Nestor's son Antilochus becomes Achilles' closest companion. When Memnon, son of the Dawn Goddess Eos and king of Ethiopia, slays Antilochus, Achilles once more obtains revenge on the battlefield, killing Memnon. Consequently, Eos will not let the sun rise, until Zeus persuades her. The fight between Achilles and Memnon over Antilochus echoes that of Achilles and Hector over Patroclus, except that Memnon (unlike Hector) was also the son of a goddess.
Many Homeric scholars argued that episode inspired many details in the Iliad's description of the death of Patroclus and Achilles' reaction to it. The episode then formed the basis of the cyclic epic Aethiopis, which was composed after the Iliad, possibly in the 7th century BC. The Aethiopis is now lost, except for scattered fragments quoted by later authors.
The exact nature of Achilles' relationship with Patroclus has been a subject of dispute in both the classical period and modern times. In the Iliad, it appears to be the model of a deep and loyal friendship. Homer does not suggest that Achilles and his close friend Patroclus were lovers. Despite there being no direct evidence in the text of the Iliad that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, this theory was expressed by some later authors. Commentators from classical antiquity to the present have often interpreted the relationship through the lens of their own cultures. In 5th-century BC Athens, the intense bond was often viewed in light of the Greek custom of paiderasteia. In Plato's Symposium, the participants in a dialogue about love assume that Achilles and Patroclus were a couple; Phaedrus argues that Achilles was the younger and more beautiful one so he was the beloved and Patroclus was the lover. But ancient Greek had no words to distinguish heterosexual and homosexual, and it was assumed that a man could both desire handsome young men and have sex with women. Many pairs of men throughout history have been compared to Achilles and Patroclus to imply a homosexual relationship.
The death of Achilles, even if considered solely as it occurred in the oldest sources, is a complex one, with many different versions. In the oldest one, the Iliad, and as predicted by Hector with his dying breath, the hero's death was brought about by Paris with an arrow (to the heel according to Statius). In some versions, the god Apollo guided Paris' arrow. Some retellings also state that Achilles was scaling the gates of Troy and was hit with a poisoned arrow. All of these versions deny Paris any sort of valour, owing to the common conception that Paris was a coward and not the man his brother Hector was, and Achilles remained undefeated on the battlefield. His bones were mingled with those of Patroclus, and funeral games were held. He was represented in the Aethiopis as living after his death in the island of Leuke at the mouth of the river Danube.
Another version of Achilles' death is that he fell deeply in love with one of the Trojan princesses, Polyxena. Achilles asks Priam for Polyxena's hand in marriage. Priam is willing because it would mean the end of the war and an alliance with the world's greatest warrior. But while Priam is overseeing the private marriage of Polyxena and Achilles, Paris, who would have to give up Helen if Achilles married his sister, hides in the bushes and shoots Achilles with a divine arrow, killing him.
In the Odyssey, Agamemnon informs Achilles of his pompous burial and the erection of his mound at the Hellespont while they are receiving the dead suitors in Hades. He claims they built a massive burial mound on the beach of Ilion that could be seen by anyone approaching from the Ocean. Achilles was cremated and his ashes buried in the same urn as those of Patroclus. Paris was later killed by Philoctetes using the enormous bow of Heracles.
In Book 11 of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus sails to the underworld and converses with the shades. One of these is Achilles, who when greeted as "blessed in life, blessed in death", responds that he would rather be a slave to the worst of masters than be king of all the dead. But Achilles then asks Odysseus of his son's exploits in the Trojan war, and when Odysseus tells of Neoptolemus' heroic actions, Achilles is filled with satisfaction. This leaves the reader with an ambiguous understanding of how Achilles felt about the heroic life.
According to some accounts, he had married Medea in life, so that after both their deaths they were united in the Elysian Fields of Hades – as Hera promised Thetis in Apollonius' Argonautica (3rd century BC).
Achilles' armour was the object of a feud between Odysseus and Telamonian Ajax (Ajax the greater). They competed for it by giving speeches on why they were the bravest after Achilles to their Trojan prisoners, who after considering both men, decided Odysseus was more deserving of the armour. Furious, Ajax cursed Odysseus, which earned him the ire of Athena. Athena temporarily made Ajax so mad with grief and anguish that he began killing sheep, thinking them his comrades. After a while, when Athena lifted his madness and Ajax realized that he had actually been killing sheep, Ajax was left so ashamed that he committed suicide. Odysseus eventually gave the armour to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles.
A relic claimed to be Achilles' bronze-headed spear was for centuries preserved in the temple of Athena on the acropolis of Phaselis, Lycia, a port on the Pamphylian Gulf. The city was visited in 333 BC by Alexander the Great, who envisioned himself as the new Achilles and carried the Iliad with him, but his court biographers do not mention the spear; however, it was shown in the time of Pausanias in the 2nd century AD.
Numerous paintings on pottery have suggested a tale not mentioned in the literary traditions. At some point in the war, Achilles and Ajax were playing a board game (petteia). They were absorbed in the game and oblivious to the surrounding battle. The Trojans attacked and reached the heroes, who were saved only by an intervention of Athena.
The tomb of Achilles, extant throughout antiquity in Troad, was venerated by Thessalians, but also by Persian expeditionary forces, as well as by Alexander the Great and the Roman emperor Caracalla. Achilles' cult was also to be found at other places, e. g. on the island of Astypalaea in the Sporades, in Sparta which had a sanctuary, in Elis and in Achilles' homeland Thessaly, as well as in the Magna Graecia cities of Tarentum, Locri and Croton, accounting for an almost Panhellenic cult to the hero.
The cult of Achilles is illustrated in the 500 BC Polyxena sarcophagus, where the sacrifice of Polixena near the tumulus of Achilles is depicted. Strabo (13.1.32) also suggested that such a cult of Achilles existed in Troad:
Near the Sigeium is a temple and monument of Achilles, and monuments also of Patroclus and Anthlochus. The Ilienses perform sacred ceremonies in honour of them all, and even of Ajax. But they do not worship Hercules, alleging as a reason that he ravaged their country.
The spread and intensity of the hero's veneration among the Greeks that had settled on the northern coast of the Pontus Euxinus, today's Black Sea, appears to have been remarkable. An archaic cult is attested for the Milesian colony of Olbia as well as for an island in the middle of the Black Sea, today identified with Snake Island (Ukrainian Зміїний, Zmiinyi, near Kiliya, Ukraine). Early dedicatory inscriptions from the Greek colonies on the Black Sea (graffiti and inscribed clay disks, these possibly being votive offerings, from Olbia, the area of Berezan Island and the Tauric Chersonese) attest the existence of a heroic cult of Achilles from the sixth century BC onwards. The cult was still thriving in the third century AD, when dedicatory stelae from Olbia refer to an Achilles Pontárchēs (Ποντάρχης, roughly "lord of the Sea," or "of the Pontus Euxinus"), who was invoked as a protector of the city of Olbia, venerated on par with Olympian gods such as the local Apollo Prostates, Hermes Agoraeus, or Poseidon.
Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) in his Natural History mentions a "port of the Achæi" and an "island of Achilles", famous for the tomb of that "man" (portus Achaeorum, insula Achillis, tumulo eius viri clara), situated somewhat nearby Olbia and the Dnieper-Bug Estuary; furthermore, at 125 Roman miles from this island, he places a peninsula "which stretches forth in the shape of a sword" obliquely, called Dromos Achilleos (Ἀχιλλέως δρόμος, Achilléōs drómos "the Race-course of Achilles") and considered the place of the hero's exercise or of games instituted by him. This last feature of Pliny's account is considered to be the iconic spit, called today Tendra (or Kosa Tendra and Kosa Djarilgatch), situated between the mouth of the Dnieper and Karkinit Bay, but which is hardly 125 Roman miles (c. 185 km) away from the Dnieper-Bug estuary, as Pliny states. (To the "Race-course" he gives a length of 80 miles, c. 120 km, whereas the spit measures c. 70 km today.)
In the following chapter of his book, Pliny refers to the same island as Achillea and introduces two further names for it: Leuce or Macaron (from Greek [νῆσος] μακαρῶν "island of the blest"). The "present day" measures, he gives at this point, seem to account for an identification of Achillea or Leuce with today's Snake Island. Pliny's contemporary Pomponius Mela (c. 43 AD) tells that Achilles was buried on an island named Achillea, situated between the Borysthenes and the Ister, adding to the geographical confusion. Ruins of a square temple, measuring 30 meters to a side, possibly that dedicated to Achilles, were discovered by Captain Kritzikly in 1823 on Snake Island. A second exploration in 1840 showed that the construction of a lighthouse had destroyed all traces of this temple. A fifth century BC black-glazed lekythos inscription, found on the island in 1840, reads: "Glaukos, son of Poseidon, dedicated me to Achilles, lord of Leuke." In another inscription from the fifth or fourth century BC, a statue is dedicated to Achilles, lord of Leuke, by a citizen of Olbia, while in a further dedication, the city of Olbia confirms its continuous maintenance of the island's cult, again suggesting its quality as a place of a supra-regional hero veneration.
The heroic cult dedicated to Achilles on Leuce seems to go back to an account from the lost epic Aethiopis according to which, after his untimely death, Thetis had snatched her son from the funeral pyre and removed him to a mythical Λεύκη Νῆσος (Leúkē Nêsos "White Island"). Already in the fifth century BC, Pindar had mentioned a cult of Achilles on a "bright island" (φαεννά νᾶσος, phaenná nâsos) of the Black Sea, while in another of his works, Pindar would retell the story of the immortalized Achilles living on a geographically indefinite Island of the Blest together with other heroes such as his father Peleus and Cadmus. Well known is the connection of these mythological Fortunate Isles (μακαρῶν νῆσοι, makárôn nêsoi) or the Homeric Elysium with the stream Oceanus which according to Greek mythology surrounds the inhabited world, which should have accounted for the identification of the northern strands of the Euxine with it. Guy Hedreen has found further evidence for this connection of Achilles with the northern margin of the inhabited world in a poem by Alcaeus, speaking of "Achilles lord of Scythia" and the opposition of North and South, as evoked by Achilles' fight against the Aethiopian prince Memnon, who in his turn would be removed to his homeland by his mother Eos after his death.
The Periplus of the Euxine Sea (c. 130 AD) gives the following details:
It is said that the goddess Thetis raised this island from the sea, for her son Achilles, who dwells there. Here is his temple and his statue, an archaic work. This island is not inhabited, and goats graze on it, not many, which the people who happen to arrive here with their ships, sacrifice to Achilles. In this temple are also deposited a great many holy gifts, craters, rings and precious stones, offered to Achilles in gratitude. One can still read inscriptions in Greek and Latin, in which Achilles is praised and celebrated. Some of these are worded in Patroclus' honour, because those who wish to be favored by Achilles, honour Patroclus at the same time. There are also in this island countless numbers of sea birds, which look after Achilles' temple. Every morning they fly out to sea, wet their wings with water, and return quickly to the temple and sprinkle it. And after they finish the sprinkling, they clean the hearth of the temple with their wings. Other people say still more, that some of the men who reach this island, come here intentionally. They bring animals in their ships, destined to be sacrificed. Some of these animals they slaughter, others they set free on the island, in Achilles' honour. But there are others, who are forced to come to this island by sea storms. As they have no sacrificial animals, but wish to get them from the god of the island himself, they consult Achilles' oracle. They ask permission to slaughter the victims chosen from among the animals that graze freely on the island, and to deposit in exchange the price which they consider fair. But in case the oracle denies them permission, because there is an oracle here, they add something to the price offered, and if the oracle refuses again, they add something more, until at last, the oracle agrees that the price is sufficient. And then the victim doesn't run away any more, but waits willingly to be caught. So, there is a great quantity of silver there, consecrated to the hero, as price for the sacrificial victims. To some of the people who come to this island, Achilles appears in dreams, to others he would appear even during their navigation, if they were not too far away, and would instruct them as to which part of the island they would better anchor their ships.
The Greek geographer Dionysius Periegetes, who lived probably during the first century AD, wrote that the island was called Leuce "because the wild animals which live there are white. It is said that there, in Leuce island, reside the souls of Achilles and other heroes, and that they wander through the uninhabited valleys of this island; this is how Jove rewarded the men who had distinguished themselves through their virtues, because through virtue they had acquired everlasting honour". Similarly, others relate the island's name to its white cliffs, snakes or birds dwelling there. Pausanias has been told that the island is "covered with forests and full of animals, some wild, some tame. In this island there is also Achilles' temple and his statue". Leuce had also a reputation as a place of healing. Pausanias reports that the Delphic Pythia sent a lord of Croton to be cured of a chest wound. Ammianus Marcellinus attributes the healing to waters (aquae) on the island.
A number of important commercial port cities of the Greek waters were dedicated to Achilles. Herodotus, Pliny the Elder and Strabo reported on the existence of a town Achílleion (Ἀχίλλειον), built by settlers from Mytilene in the sixth century BC, close to the hero's presumed burial mound in the Troad. Later attestations point to an Achílleion in Messenia (according to Stephanus Byzantinus) and an Achílleios (Ἀχίλλειος) in Laconia. Nicolae Densuşianu recognized a connection to Achilles in the names of Aquileia and of the northern arm of the Danube delta, called Chilia (presumably from an older Achileii), though his conclusion, that Leuce had sovereign rights over the Black Sea, evokes modern rather than archaic sea-law.
The kings of Epirus claimed to be descended from Achilles through his son, Neoptolemus. Alexander the Great, son of the Epirote princess Olympias, could therefore also claim this descent, and in many ways strove to be like his great ancestor. He is said to have visited the tomb of Achilles at Achilleion while passing Troy. In AD 216 the Roman Emperor Caracalla, while on his way to war against Parthia, emulated Alexander by holding games around Achilles' tumulus.
The Greek tragedian Aeschylus wrote a trilogy of plays about Achilles, given the title Achilleis by modern scholars. The tragedies relate the deeds of Achilles during the Trojan War, including his defeat of Hector and eventual death when an arrow shot by Paris and guided by Apollo punctures his heel. Extant fragments of the Achilleis and other Aeschylean fragments have been assembled to produce a workable modern play. The first part of the Achilleis trilogy, The Myrmidons, focused on the relationship between Achilles and chorus, who represent the Achaean army and try to convince Achilles to give up his quarrel with Agamemnon; only a few lines survive today. In Plato's Symposium, Phaedrus points out that Aeschylus portrayed Achilles as the lover and Patroclus as the beloved; Phaedrus argues that this is incorrect because Achilles, being the younger and more beautiful of the two, was the beloved, who loved his lover so much that he chose to die to revenge him.
The philosopher Zeno of Elea centred one of his paradoxes on an imaginary footrace between "swift-footed" Achilles and a tortoise, by which he attempted to show that Achilles could not catch up to a tortoise with a head start, and therefore that motion and change were impossible. As a student of the monist Parmenides and a member of the Eleatic school, Zeno believed time and motion to be illusions.
The Romans, who traditionally traced their lineage to Troy, took a highly negative view of Achilles. Virgil refers to Achilles as a savage and a merciless butcher of men, while Horace portrays Achilles ruthlessly slaying women and children. Other writers, such as Catullus, Propertius, and Ovid, represent a second strand of disparagement, with an emphasis on Achilles' erotic career. This strand continues in Latin accounts of the Trojan War by writers such as Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius and in Benoît de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie and Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae, which remained the most widely read and retold versions of the Matter of Troy until the 17th century.
Achilles was described by the Byzantine chronicler Leo the Deacon, not as Hellene, but as Scythian, while according to the Byzantine author John Malalas, his army was made up of a tribe previously known as Myrmidons and later as Bulgars.
Achilles has been frequently the subject of operas, ballets and related genres.
In films Achilles has been portrayed in the following films and television series:
In 1890, Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria, had a summer palace built in Corfu. The building is named the Achilleion, after Achilles. Its paintings and statuary depict scenes from the Trojan War, with particular focus on Achilles.
There is certainly no evidence in the text of the Iliad that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers.
The ancient sources do not report, however, what modern scholars have asserted: that Alexander and his very close friend Hephaestion were lovers. Achilles and his equally close friend Patroclus provided the legendary model for this friendship, but Homer in the Iliad never suggested that they had sex with each other. (That came from later authors.) If Alexander and Hephaestion did have a sexual relationship, it would have been transgressive by majority Greek standards ...
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