Who was Achilles?
Achilles was the son of the mortal Peleus and the Nereid Thetis. He was the mightiest of the Greeks who fought in the Trojan War and was the hero of Homer’s Iliad.
Thetis attempted unsuccessfully to make her son immortal. There are two versions of the story. In the earlier version, Thetis anointed the infant with ambrosia and then placed him upon a fire to burn away his mortal portions; she was interrupted by Peleus, whereupon she abandoned both father and son in a rage. Peleus placed the child in the care of the Centaur Chiron, who raised and educated the boy. In the later version, Thetis held the young Achilles by the heel and dipped him in the river Styx; everything the sacred waters touched became invulnerable, but while she was dipping him in the water she had to hold him by the heel so the heel remained dry and therefore unprotected.
When Achilles was a boy, the seer Calchas prophesied that the city of Troy could not be taken without his help. Thetis knew that, if her son went to Troy, he would die an early death, so she sent him to the court of Lycomedes, in Scyros; there he was hidden, disguised as a young girl. During his stay, he had an affair with Lycomedes’ daughter, Deidameia, and she had a son, Pyrrhus (or Neoptolemus), by him. Achilles’ disguise was finally penetrated by Odysseus, who placed arms and armor amidst a display of women’s finery and seized upon Achilles when he was the only “maiden” to be fascinated by the swords and shields.
Achilles then went willingly with Odysseus to Troy, leading a host of his father’s Myrmidons and accompanied by his tutor Phoenix and his close friend Patroclus. At Troy, Achilles distinguished himself as an unbeatable warrior. Among his other exploits, he captured twenty-three towns in Trojan territory, including the town of Lyrnessos, where he took the woman Briseis as a war-prize. Later on, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, was forced by an oracle of Apollo to give up his own war-prize, the woman Chryseis, and took Briseis away from Achilles as compensation for his loss. This action sparked the central plot of the Iliad, for Achilles became enraged and refused to fight for the Greeks any further. The war went badly, and the Greeks offered handsome reparations to their greatest warrior; Achilles still refused to fight in person, but he agreed to allow his friend Patroclus to fight in his place, wearing his armor. The next day Patroclus was killed and stripped of the armour by the Trojan hero Hector, who mistook him for Achilles.