The Troy War
Either way, the winds picked up again after the sacrifice and the Achaean fleet was finally able to set sail toward Troy.
While on the way there, they stormed the island of Tenedos; unaware of his identity, Achilles killed the island’s king,
Tenes, who happened to be a son of the god Apollo. It was a fateful decision since Thetis had warned him not to kill any sons of Apollo,
lest he wants to be killed by the god himself; just as forewarned, many years later, Apollo will get his revenge.
The Course of the War
The Diplomatic Mission
From Tenedos, the Greeks sent a diplomatic mission to Troy – probably consisting solely of Menelaus and Odysseus, though some say entailing Acamas and Diomedes as wel
l – whose mission was to recover Helen by peaceful means. The Trojans not only refused this,
but they also threatened to kill the envoy and only the intervention of the Trojan elder Antenor saved the lives of Menelaus and Odysseus.
The message was loud and clear: if they wanted Helen back, the Greeks would have to come and get her through the use of arms.
And so they did: after many years of wandering, the Greek fleet sailed the short route from Tenedos to Troas and finally arrived at the desired destination.
However, everybody was now reluctant to land, as an oracle had once prophesized that the first Greek to step on Trojan soil would be the first one to die in the war.
Some say that Protesilaus took the initiative willingly and sacrificed himself for the sake of Greece, but others claim that he was tricked by Odysseus who announced that he would disembark
first, but, circumvented the prophecy by stepping on his shield once ashore.
Either way, it was Protesilaus who had the misfortune of being the first victim of the Trojan War, dying during a face-to-face duel with Troy’s most celebrated hero, its beloved prince, Hector.
The Nine-Year Siege of Troy
The siege of Troy lasted for nine years, but the Trojans – able to maintain trade links with other Asian cities, in addition to getting constant reinforcements
– firmly held their ground. Near the end of the ninth year, the exhausted Achaean army mutinied and demanded to return home;
Achilles, however, boosted their morale and convinced them to stay a bit longer
In the absence of his mother, Achilles spent most of his childhood on Mount Pelion, where he was reared and trained by the wise Centaur Chiron in numerous disciplines, ranging from hunting to music. Needless to add, Achilles excelled in all of them, and by the time he returned to his father’s home, it was already evident to many that the boy was destined for greatness.
Back in Phthia, Achilles befriended Phoenix and Patroclus, two refugees Peleus had taken in during Achilles’ absence. Both would have an enormous influence on the young Achilles, the latter one becoming his role model and dearest friend.
The Trojan War
Achilles’ anger with Agamemnon is the main theme of Homer’s “Iliad” which recounts the last year of the Trojan War, during which Achilles first withdraws from battle and then, enraged by the death of his beloved comrade Patroclus, brings the Greeks the body of Troy’s greatest warrior, Hector.
Pyrrha at the Court of Lycomedes
Realizing that the Trojan War was fast approaching – and fully aware that her son was still destined to die in battle – Thetis resorted to an unusual tactic to keep Achilles safe: she disguised him as a girl and hid him at the court of king Lycomedes in Skyros. The plan worked well for a while, but then Odysseus learned from the prophet Calchas that the Greeks would lose the war without the help of Achilles.
So, he learned his whereabouts and tricked him into uncovering his identity by either disguising himself as a peddler selling jewelry and women’s clothes or feigning an attack on Skyros. In the first case, Odysseus included a spear among his goods and only one girl by the name of Pyrrha showed some interest in it; in the latter, everyone but this Pyrrha fled the scene. Either way, it was all too obvious to Odysseus: Pyrrha had to be none other than Achille
The Death of Achilles
Achilles didn’t live too long after these events: an arrow shot by Paris and guided by Apollo hit him on his heel as he was trying to enter Troy.
He was later burned on a funeral pyre, and his bones were mixed with those of his close friend Patroclus. Paris himself was subsequently killed by an arrow, fired by Philoctetes,
straight from the legendary bow of Heracles.
Odysseus’ Ploy: the Trojan Horse
Numerous other heroes died in the following days. Finally, Odysseus devised a plan to end the war for good.
He asked that a wooden horse with a hollow belly be built. Soldiers hid in the interior of the horse, which was then wheeled in front of Troy’s city gates.
Meanwhile, the Greek fleet sailed away to the nearby island of Tenedos, leaving behind a double agent named Sinon.
After some deliberation, Sinon convinced the Trojans that the Greeks had withdrawn and that the Trojan Horse was a divine gift that should bring much good fortune to Troy.
Even though Apollo’s priest Laocoon and the prophetess Cassandra had warned them not to, the Trojans refused to listen and brought the horse into the city.
They then started feasting and celebrating the victory. However, during the night, the Greek ships sailed back, and the soldiers hidden inside the horse jumped out of it and opened the gates.
A massacre followed and, eventually, after a decade-long war, Troy fell.
The Raid of Troy
The Greeks raided the city and set much of it on fire, destroying temples and sacred grounds and committing offense after offense against the Olympian gods.
King Priam was brutally murdered by Achilles’ son Neoptolemus, and Queen Hecuba was either enslaved by Odysseus or went mad upon seeing the corpses of many of her children.
One of her daughters, Polyxena, was sacrificed on Achilles’ grave, and another, Cassandra, was dragged away from Athena’s temple by the Locrian
Ajax and assaulted in an act so vile that the statue of the goddess turned its eyes away in horror. In possibly the cruelest deed of them all, either Neoptolemus or Odysseus threw Hector’s little son,
Astyanax, from the walls of Troy and to his death. One of the few heroes who escaped the carnage alive was Aeneas,
who subsequently reached Italy and founded the first Roman dynasty.
The gods never forget and rarely forgive. The surviving Greek heroes will learn this the hard way: although victorious, most of them will be severely punished for their transgressions.
In fact, only few will ever reach their homes – and only after numerous exploits and adventures. Even fewer will be greeted with a warm welcome,
either ending up being exiled into oblivion or finding their deaths at the hands of their loved ones. Or, in some cases, both.
Trojan War Sources
Even though Homer’s “Iliad” describes just a short period of about fifty days during the tenth year of the Trojan War (with the bulk of it focusing on no more than five), it is, unquestionably, the most well-known primary source for the conflict.
The epic ends with the burial of Hector’s body, and to learn what happened next (including the famous Trojan Horse ploy), you must consult the second book of Virgil’s “Aeneid.”
Most of the epitome of Apollodorus’ “Library” narrates the events of the Trojan War – from its mythological background through a summary of the “Iliad” and the lost epic “
The Sack of Troy” and all the way to the ill-fated returns of the heroes to Greece.
See Also: Achaeans, Thetis, Peleus, Paris, Helen, Achilles, Tyndareus, Menelaus, Odysseus, Calchas, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Patroclus, Hector, Priam, The Trojan Horse, The Sack of Tro
Achilles :: The Trojan War Hero
Achilles, the son of Peleus and Thetis, was the greatest of all Greek heroes who took part in the Trojan War. Knowing that her child was destined to either die the death of a glorious warrior or live a long life in obscurity, Thetis bathed Achilles as an infant in the waters of the River Styx, thus making him all but immortal: only the heel by which she held him remained vulnerable. However, as prophesized, this proved costly, because Achilles eventually died from an arrow wound in that heel. Guided by Apollo, the fateful arrow was shot by Paris, the brother of Troy’s most celebrated hero Hector, whom Achilles had previously killed in a face to face duel, in an attempt to avenge the death of his closest friend, Patroclus.
Achilles’ Childhood and Early Career
Achilles’ very birth is interlinked with two important prophecies: one about his mother, and another one about him. Made all but invulnerable by his mother, Achilles would spend his childhood under the mentorship of the Centaur Chiron.
The Prophecy About Thetis, Achilles’ Mother
Achilles was the son of Peleus, king of Thessalian Phthia, and Thetis, a sea-goddess. Even though he did grow up to become the greatest of all Greek heroes, for all we know, he might have even supplanted Zeus as the ruler of the entire universe if it hadn’t been for either Themis’ or Prometheus’ timely intervention.
Namely, a year before Achilles’ birth, both Zeus and Poseidon fell in love with his eventual mother and did their best to win her hand in marriage. And only Themis and Prometheus knew it was vital for the Olympian order that neither of the two marries Thetis, for it had been written “that the sea-goddess should bear a princely son, stronger than his father, who would wield another weapon in his hand more powerful than the thunderbolt or the irresistible trident.”
The Prophecy About Achilles
Whether it was Themis or Prometheus who let the cat out of the bag we may never know, but we do know that she or he did it just in time: Zeus was barely a few moments away from sharing a bed with Thetis.
We also know that Achilles’ eventual father, Peleus, was chosen for a reason: he was, supposedly, the most pious man on the planet, worthy enough of a divine wife. More importantly, he was also a mortal, meaning he couldn’t beget an immortal son.
“Let Thetis accept a mortal’s bed,” Themis counseled the Olympians ominously, “so that she can see her son die in battle, a son who is like Ares in the strength of his hands and like lightning in the swift prime of his feet.”
Being a goddess, Thetis wasn’t all that happy to be cruelly destined to one day see her son being taken away from her by merciless Death. So, everybody agrees that she did her best to prevent such a thing from ever happening.
Some say that the sea-goddess tried making Achilles immortal through a lengthy purifying ritual which consisted of anointing him with ambrosia every night and slowly burning away his immortality by the fireside, body part by body part. However, right near the end of the ritual, Peleus caught her in the act of putting Achilles in the fire and, understandably, was too shocked to believe any of Thetis’ excuses. The nymph felt so dishonored that she left both her husband and her son and went back to live in the sea with her sister Nereids.
Others, however, claim that soon after Achilles was born, Thetis went to the Underworld and dipped him in the waters of the River Styx. Thus, she managed to make his whole body invulnerable but for the part by which she held him: his left heel. Hence the expression “Achilles’ heel,” meaning “a seemingly small but actually crucial weakness.”
The Death of Achilles
Although predicted by Hector with his dying breath, the death of Achilles is not narrated in the “Iliad.” However, as predicted, it does occur relatively soon after Hector’s death: Paris, Hector’s cowardly brother, manages to kill the greatest of the great heroes with an arrow hitting Achilles’ heel, the only vulnerable part of his body. Poisoned or not, the arrow was most certainly guided by the god Apollo, since Paris was no archer of renown. Thus, Achilles paid dearly for disobeying his mother’s wishes and killing Tenes.
The Ghost of Achilles
One of the shades that Odysseus encounters after descending in the Underworld in Homer’s “Odyssey” is the one of Achilles, apparently some kind of a minor ruler of the dead souls in its region. Upon realizing this, Odysseus admires Achilles for being blessed in death as much as he had been in life. “If I could choose,” replies Achilles memorably to this, “I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead.”
Achilles is the central character of Homer’s “Iliad.” In Pindar’s 8th Isthmian Ode, you can read more about the prophecy surrounding his mother, and in Apollodorus all about how Thetis tried making Achilles immortal. Odysseus’ meeting with his ghost is narrated in the 11th book of the “Odyssey.”
The Last Year: Achilles in the “Iliad”
A conflict mirroring the one at Aulis kickstarts the tenth year of the Greek campaign against Troy. Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaeans, is forced to give up his concubine Chryseis to appease Apollo and put an end to a plague sent by the god among the Greeks. In return for this, Agamemnon demands another hero’s war-prize – namely, Achilles’ concubine, Briseis. Furious to be dishonored in such a way, Achilles withdraws from battle, even asking his mother Thetis to convince Zeus to help the Trojans, so that Agamemnon and the Greeks recognize promptly the severity of the loss of their greatest warrior.
Zeus nods in agreement and, pretty soon, the Trojans manage to successfully drive the Greeks towards their ships. Agamemnon realizes his mistake and sends Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix to Achilles’ tent with an apology and a promise of many fine gifts. Achilles accepts neither: educated by his mother that he is destined to either die at Troy as a glorious warrior or live a long life in obscurity at home, he informs Agamemnon’s embassy that he has now chosen the latter.
Fearing ultimate defeat, Patroclus asks Achilles for his armor and, disguised as his treasured friend, he leads a successful attack against the Trojans. However, taken by the moment, he goes a step too far and is subsequently killed by the fearless Trojan prince, Hector.
Enraged by his friend’s death, Achilles rejoins the battle and, adorned with new armor made by Hephaestus, he tracks down Hector and kills him in a face to face duel. Still burning with anger, Achilles drags Hector’s lifeless body with his chariot for eleven days straight, until the gods intervene and help Priam, Hector’s father, to reach Achilles’ tent and beg for the body of his son. Achilles is moved to tears by this act and agrees to give Priam his son’s body.