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Form: Gr. Achilleus.
Son of Peleus (king of the Myrmidons in Thessalian Phthia) by the Nereid Thetis, grandson of Aeacus, great-grandson of Zeus. In Homer he is duly brought up by his mother to man's estate, in close friendship with his older cousin Patroclus, the son of Mencetius, a half-brother of Aeacus; is taught the arts of war and eloquence by Phoenix (q.v.) and that of healing by the centaur Chiron, his mother's grandfatber. But later legends lend additional features to the story of his youth. To make her son immortal, Thetis anoints him with ambrosia by-day, and holds him in the fire at night, to destroy whatever mortal element he has derived from his father, until Peleus, coming in one night, sees the boy baking in the fire, and makes an outcry; the goddess, aggrieved at seeing her plan thwarted, deserts husband and child, and goes home to the Nereids. According to a later story she dipped the child in the river Styx, and thus made him invulnerable, all but the heel by which she held him. Then Peleus takes the motherless boy to Chiron on Mount Pelion, who feeds him on the entrails of lions and boars, and the marrow of bears, and instructs him in all knightly and elegant arts. At the age of six the boy was so strong and swift that he slew wild boars and lions, and caught stage without net or hound. Again, as to his share in the expedition to Troy, the legends differ widely. In Homer, Achilles and Patroclus are at once ready to obey the call of Nestor and Odysseus, and their fathers willingly let them go, accompanied by the old man Phoenix. In later legend, Thetis, alarmed by the prophecy of Calchas that Troy cannot be taken without Achilles, and foreseeing his fall in such a war, conducts the boy of nine to the island of Scyros, where in female dress he grows up among the daughters of king Lycomedes, and by one of them, Deldameia, begets Neoptolemus(q.v.). But Calchas betrays his whereabouts, and Odysseus, in concert with Diomedes, unmasks the young hero. Disguised as a merchant, he spreads out female ornaments before the maidens, as well as a shield and spear; suddenly a trumpet sounds the call to battle, the maidens flee, but Achilles clutches at the arms, and declares himself eager to fight. At the first landing of' the Greeks, on the Asian coast, he wounds Telephus (q.v.); at their second, on the Trojan shore, Cycnus (q.v.). Before Troy, Homer makes him the chief of Greek heroes, whom the favour of Hera and Athena, and his own merit have placed above friend and foe. He is graced with all the attributes of a hero: in birth, beauty, swiftness, strength, and valour, he has not his peer; none can resist him, the very sight of him strikes terror into the foe. His anger may be furious, his grief immoderate; but his nature is at bottom kind, affectionate, and generous, even to his enemies. Touching is his love for his parents, especially his mother, and his devotion to his friends. In the first nine years of the war he leads the Greeks on their many plundering excursions around Troy, and destroys eleven inland and twelve seacoast towns. The events of the tenth year, brought on by the deep grudge he bears Agamemnon for taking away Briseis (daughter of Brises), form the subject of Homer's Iliad. When he and his men withdraw from the fight, the Trojans press on irresistibly; they have taken the camp of the Greeks, and are setting their ships on fire. In this extremity he lends Patroclus the arms his father (see PELEUS) had given him, and lets him lead the Myrmidons to battle. Patroclus drives the Trojans back, but falls by Hector's hand, and the arms are lost, though the corpse is recovered. Grief for his friend and thirst for vengeance at last overcome his grudge against Agamemnon. Furnished by Hephaestus, at the request of Thetis, with splendid new arms, including the shield of wondrous workmanship, he goes out against Hector, well knowing that lie himself must fall soon after him. He makes frightful havoc among the enemy, till at last Hector is the only one that dares await him without the walls, and even he turns in terror at the sight of him. After chasing him three times round the city, Achilles overtakes him, pierces him with his lance, trails his body behind his chariot to the camp, and there casts it for a prey to the birds and dogs. Then with the utmost pomp he lays the loved friend of his youth in the same grave-mound that is to hold his own ashes, and founds funeral games in his honour. The next night Priam comes secretly to his tent, and offers rich gifts to ransom Hector's body; but Achilles, whom the broken-down old king reminds of his own father, gives it up without ransom, and grants eleven days' truce for the burying. After many valiant deeds (see TROJAN WAR), he is overtaken by the fate which he had himself chosen; for the choice had been given him between an early death with undying fame and a long but inglorious life. Near the Scaean Gate he is struck by the shaft of Paris, guided by Apollo. According to a later legend he was wounded in the one vulnerable heel, and in the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, whither he had gone unarmed to be wedded to Priam's daughter Polyxena (q.v.). Greeks and Trojans fight furiously all day about his body, till Zeus sends down a storm to end the fight. Seventeen days and nights the Greeks, with Thetis and the sea-goddesses and Muses, bewail the dead; then amid numerous sacrifices the body is burnt. Next morning the ashes, with those of Patroclus and of Nestor's son, Antilochus, whom Achilles had loved in the next degree, are placed in a golden pitcher, the work of Hephaestus, and gift of Dionysus, and deposited in the famed tumulus that crowns the promontory of Sigeum. The soul of Homer's Achilles dwells, like other souls, in the lower world, and is there seen by Odysseus together with the souls of his two friends. According to later poets Thetis snatched her son's body out of the burning pyre and carried it to the island of Leuke at the mouth of the Danube, where the transfigured hero lives on, sovereign of the Pontus and husband of Iphigeneia. Others place him in Elysium, with Medea or Helena to wife. Besides Leuce, where the mariners of Pontus and Greek colonists honoured him with offerings and games, he had many other places of worship; the most venerable, however, was his tomb on the Hellespont, where he appeared to Homer in the full blaze of his armour, and struck the poet blind. In works of art Achilles was represented as similar to Ares, with magnificent physique, and hair bristling up like a mane. One of his most famous statues is that at Paris (from the Villa Borghese), though many take it for an Ares.
Type: Standard
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