Achilles, the main character of the Iliad, remains one of the emblematic heroes of Greek mythology and modern literature for his bravery and fierceness in avenging the death of his best friend, Patroclus.
Homer‘s epic poem, along with Odyssey, has retained enormous influence on Western literature to this very day. And this is also true for Achilles, the fearless warrior who became the very symbol of gallantry.
“Sing, Goddess, of the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,” is the opening line of the Iliad, the poem that describes a few weeks of the 10-year Trojan War, mainly the many feats of Achilles.
Greek mythology has it that Achilles was invulnerable because his mother Thetis had dipped him in the river Styx as an infant.
Yet he still retired that one vulnerable part of his body, the heel from which his mother had held him to immerse him in the river.
What happened to Achilles after the Iliad?
The death of Achilles is not mentioned at all in the Iliad. His killing by Paris, who had discovered the one weak spot of the Greek warrior, comes from another ancient legend, which says that Paris shot Achilles in the heel with an arrow and killed him.
The terms “Achilles’ heel” and “Achilles tendon” — still used today — stem from the Iliad.
However, the death of Achilles by Paris’ arrow is not mentioned in the epic poem — strangely, his death is related in later sources. One of them says that it was god Apollo who guided the arrow into his vulnerable spot, his heel.
Since the Iliad does not mention to what happened to Achilles next, there are numerous later legends and other ancient authors who related more of the Greek warrior’s story.
After the death of prince Hector, the Trojans called on their allies to help them defeat the attacking Greeks.
The Ethiopian King Memnon was one such ally who brought his army to support the Trojans, but he was killed by Achilles in battle.
Another legend has Achilles battling the Amazons and fighting their leader, Queen Penthesilea. The moment Achilles kills her with his spear, their eyes meet and he falls in love with her — but it is too late.
In other accounts, Achilles is marrying Trojan princess Polyxena and supposedly negotiating an end to the war when Paris fires the shot that kills him.
According to other ancient authors, after his death, Achilles is cremated, and his ashes are mixed with those of his dear friend Patroclus.
The Odyssey describes a huge tomb of Achilles on the beach at Troy, and Odysseus meets Achilles during his visit to the underworld, among a group of other dead heroes.
Another legend has Achilles marrying Helen in the afterworld. After his death, he became a demigod.