(ORDO NEWS) — “Sing, goddess, the fury of Achilles” is the very first line of the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem, in which he introduces his protagonist.
The Greek hero Achilles was considered the strongest, bravest and even the most beautiful in the army of Agamemnon.
However, Achilles was only one of the pantheon of heroes living in Greek myths. With heroes like Hercules, Theseus, and many more to compare to, where would Achilles stand among his peers?
In this article, we will look at the life of Achilles and determine if he really deserves the title of the greatest hero.
Birth of Achilles and prophecy of his death
Achilles was the son of Peleus, the mortal king of the Myrmidons, and Thetis, the goddess of the sea or sea nymph.
Peleus may have been mortal, but he had divine roots, being the grandson of Zeus, king of the gods.
Thus, Achilles was the great-grandson of Zeus and divine on his mother’s side. However, his origin could not prevent what fate had planned for the young prince.
The Moirai or Fates foretold that Achilles would meet his death on the battlefield at the gates of Troy. Alarmed by the prophecy, Thetis tried to ensure that her son was not harmed and made him invulnerable.
There are two versions of this story. The first, less well-known, says that Thetis placed Achilles on hot coals at night, and in the morning she anointed his body with ambrosia.
She continued this practice, but Peleus, fearing that his son would burn to death, ended the entire ritual before the transformation could be completed, leaving the young Achilles mortal.
The second version says that Thetis took her son to the river Styx and, holding him by the heels, dipped him into the infernal river.
Submersion in water ensured the invulnerability of his body, the only gap in his armor was the heel by which he was held.
This remained his only weakness. A mother’s love for her child is immeasurable because she is willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure the survival of her offspring.
This suggests a comparison with Norse mythology. Balder, the most beloved of the Norse gods, also had to die.
To prevent this, his mother Frigga, knowing that all beings love her son, demanded that everyone promise never to harm Balder. Even objects, plants, and diseases promised not to harm the beloved prince.
Like Thetis, Frigga tried to ensure her son’s well-being, but she forgot to take the promise from mistletoe, a harmful plant.
Like Achilles, this weakness will be Balder’s undoing. Loki tricked the blind god into impaling Balder with a mistletoe dart, which ultimately killed Balder. In a way, this story shows that there is no escaping fate.
The Aspiring Hero: A Comparison of Achilles and Theseus
In early childhood, Achilles was taught by Chiron, a centaur and mentor of all future heroes. Chiron was a renaissance man – he was versed in many arts and disciplines, and also known as an outstanding healer.
Among his students were Jason, the twins Castor and Pollux, and even Asclepius. Under Chiron’s wing, Achilles could have acquired all the skills he needed to become a brave and wise warrior.
Achilles also received the guardianship of Phoenix, who would later accompany him to Troy.
However, later mythographers testify that Peleus learned about the fate of his son when Achilles had already grown up. He tried to defy fate and sent Achilles to the court of Lycomedes on Skyros.
There, the young man was dressed as a girl and settled with the daughters of the king. The daughter of King Lycomedes, Deidamia, was impregnated by Achilles and bore him a son, Neoptolemus.
The son of Achilles will also take part in the Trojan War.
As an aspiring hero, Achilles lived in comfort at the court of Lycomedes. Other contenders for the mantle of “greatest hero” did not fare so well. Years earlier, when Theseus reached adulthood, his mother, Aetra, sent him on a journey to Athens.
Along the way, he met enemies that he had to defeat in order to reach his goal. In Corinth he killed Sinis, also known as the “pine bender” because he killed his victims by crushing them between two pine trees.
Later, Theseus killed the Crommion boar and then threw the vicious Skryon (notorious for drowning his victims when they stopped to wash their feet) off a cliff.
Moving on, Theseus met Procrutus. In ancient Greek legends, the deeds of Procrutus were as evil as the previous ones. It is said that he had an iron bed on which he forced his victims to lie.
If a man was too big, he cut off his legs and left him to bleed. If the person was too small, he tied his hands and feet and stretched them until they died.
By the time Theseus arrived in Athens, he had dealt with many villains. Later, he even took it upon himself to kill the minotaur. The similar 12 works of Hercules on the destruction of monsters are well known.
On the other hand, Achilles was known to be a great fighter, but he had very little experience in fighting monsters or villains.
And his parents, although they tried to protect the young prince, eventually encouraged him to hide, which he did.
Perhaps Achilles lacked the bravado that Theseus had, but when necessary, he rose to his feet and glorified himself in Troy.
Contrasting the self-sacrifice of Achilles and Hercules
While Achilles was getting used to living as a girl at the court of Lycomedes, Menelaus had to come to terms with the fact that Paris of Troy had run away with his wife Helen.
With the help of his brother Agamemnon, the enraged Menelaus began to raise the Greek army for the war with Troy.
Many famous Greek chiefs hastened to join the cause. All but two – Odysseus and Achilles. The brothers first convinced Odysseus, who in turn helped find Achilles and ask him to join their cause.
Odysseus disguised himself as a merchant who brought with him many fine trinkets and even excellent weapons.
Of all the girls, only Achilles became interested in weapons, because, although he was disguised as a woman, he could not hide his true nature.
The shrewd Odysseus quickly recognized Achilles and thus recruited the young hero. Perhaps they both tried to avoid war, but their efforts were in vain. As Plato said, “no one can escape his fate.”
Odysseus could have saved Achilles from participating in the war simply by saying that he could not find him.
But a soothsayer named Calchas told Menelaus that without Achilles they would not succeed in capturing Troy. Therefore, he decided to recruit the young man, hoping to quickly return home after the battle won.
Although Achilles was really forced to leave his son and love, and the threat of death loomed over his head in Troy, if you compare his sacrifice with the sacrifice of Hercules, then it begins to fade.
Hercules was a demigod, the son of Zeus and a mortal, so even before his birth he made an enemy in the person of Hera, who turned his life into a nightmare. Hera even tried to prevent Hercules from being born.
Throughout his life, he was constantly attacked, but the most terrible attack occurred when he was already an adult.
Hera cast a spell that made Hercules temporarily insane, causing him to kill his beloved wife and children.
Despite the fact that he was severely cursed for this deed, he wanted to be punished, so he turned to Apollo for help.
Apollo knew that Hercules was not to blame, because he knew that Hera was taking revenge on the young man. However, Apollo ordered Hercules to perform 12 “heroic labors” for Eurystheus, king of Mycenae.
After their execution, his guilt will be removed, and he himself will receive immortality. Unlike Achilles, Heracles was tested from the start and had to suffer greatly in order to earn his place among the gods.
Achilles, Hector and the Trojan War
Before the Greeks launched their attack, an envoy went to Troy to try to resolve the conflict peacefully. These negotiations broke down, and the Greeks prepared to go on a campaign.
It was during the preparations that Achilles first came into conflict with Agamemnon, who used the young warrior’s name to lure his own daughter to the camp. Here an innocent girl was sacrificed to appease Athena.
Achilles’ main concern was the creation of his legacy.
Knowing that he was destined to die at Troy, he still accompanied the Greeks, and as soon as they reached the shore, Achilles became an unstoppable force that killed many of Troy’s greatest warriors.
But, despite all the efforts of the Greeks, the years continued to go on without end. Achilles devastated the cities around Troy, capturing at least twelve of them.
However, in the tenth year, trouble came to the Greek camp: Achilles quarreled with Agamemnon. The dispute arose over the young Trojan woman Chryseis, whom Agamemnon took as a concubine.
Achilles wanted the king to return Chryseus to her father, who was a priest of Apollo.
Unfortunately, Agamemnon did not listen to him and only mocked the young hero. In turn, the angry Apollo punished the Greek army by unleashing a plague on them.
To appease Apollo’s anger, Agamemnon agreed to return his concubine, but only if Achilles gave him the Trojan princess Bresei.
Achilles did what was required, but after that he refused further participation in the war, hiding in his tent. Without Achilles, the Greeks began to suffer losses.
Achilles refused to fight, but his friend Patroclus was able to find a compromise. He had to put on the armor of Achilles on the battlefield to scare the Trojans.
This scheme eventually ended with the death of Patroclus at the hands of Hector.
Enraged by the defeat, Achilles vowed revenge. Tethys asked Hephaestus, the divine blacksmith, to make a sword and shield for her son. Achilles’ mother did everything she could to ensure her son’s survival.
Burning with anger, Achilles destroyed everyone who stood in his way while pursuing Hector.
Finally, when they reached the gates of Troy, Hector tried to reason with the young hero, but his cries went unheeded. Achilles plunged a dagger into Hector’s throat, and the warrior’s life was cut short.
Instead of letting the Trojans take Hector’s body for burial, Achilles dragged him behind his chariot to the Achaean camp, where he threw him into a garbage heap.
However, in the end, he still allowed Hector’s body to be returned to his father for a proper burial. Later, he again moved to Troy, still engulfed in the flames of revenge.
Unfortunately, this time the arrow fired by Paris was directed by Apollo and hit Achilles’ heel, his only weak point. Achilles died on the spot, but remained undefeated in battle.
Achilles and his doom
In the eleventh book of Homer’s Odyssey we hear an exchange of opinions between Odysseus and the spirit of Achilles.
And if Odysseus honors the fallen hero with such titles as the greatest warrior, then the words of Achilles are full of regret. He says:
“Glorious Odysseus: do not try to reconcile me with my death.
I would rather serve as someone else’s worker, a poor peasant without land, and be alive on earth, than become the master of all the lifeless dead.”
He asks about his son and father, wanting to be near them. The regret he feels about dying in battle is understandable, he tells Odysseus about the joys of life.
The only news that consoles him is when he learns of his son’s greatness in the battle for Troy. Homer goes on to write:
“The spirit of Achilles, the grandson of Aeacus, walked with long strides across the field of asphodels, rejoicing at my news of the greatness of his son.”
Achilles may have been a hero, but Homer reveals that he was also a man who dreamed of a simple and long life where he could watch his son grow up and look after his father in his old age.
Often we do not see the human side of the heroes, but here Achilles regrets that he died in battle. What is the use of a glorified title if there is no person nearby who could enjoy the beauty of life?
Achilles was no doubt a brilliant fighter, but his life seems to have been very sheltered. During the heroic phase of his life, his stubborn nature cost the life of his friend.
The hero is responsible for the lives of all who depend on him, especially in battle. Achilles died undefeated in battle, but his thirst for revenge was his final demise.
“Hard times don’t make heroes,” said Bob Riley. “It is in difficult times that the hero within us is revealed.”
After comparing the life and legacy of Achilles with other heroes of ancient Greek mythology, the title of “Greatest Hero” may belong to someone else.
Hercules would be the most likely candidate. But if we look beyond Ancient Greece, the possibilities expand considerably.
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