The Wrath of Akhilléfs by François-Léon Benouville. Foto: Public Domain per File:Leon Benouville The Wrath of Achilles.jpg


The Parents of Akhilléfs

Pîléfs (Pêleus, Πηλεύς) was the king of the Myrmidónæs (Myrmidons, Μυρμιδόνες). His wife was the sea-nymph Thǽtis (Thetis, Θέτις), who was the daughter of Nîréfs (Nêreus, Νηρεύς) and Dôrís (Doris, Δωρίς). Akhilléfs (Achilles, Ἀχιλλεύς) was the son of Pîléfs and Thǽtis and a great hero of the Trojan War.

Akhilléfs in the Vivliothíkî (Bibliotheca, Βιβλιοθήκη) of Apollódôros (Apollodorus, Ἀπολλόδωρος) [1]

Zefs (Ζεύς) was given a prophecy by Promîthéfs (Promêtheus, Προμηθεύς) that should he marry the sea-nymph Thǽtis (Thetis, Θέτις), she would bear him a son who would be the lord of the heavens. This prophecy was in harmony with a similar oracle from the Goddess Thǽmis (Themis, Θέμις) stating that a son born from the union of Zefs and Thǽtis would yield a son greater than the father. Therefore, Zefs withdrew his amorous pursuit of Thǽtis and, conspiring with another rival, Poseidóhn (Poseidôn, Ποσειδῶν), wed her to the mortal Pîléfs, to whom she bore a son. Originally, this son of Pîléfs and Thǽtis was named Liyírôn (Ligyrôn, Λιγύρων).

Unbeknownst to Pîléfs, Thǽtis desired to make her child deathless, and to accomplish this task, she hid Liyírôn in the fire at night to destroy the part of him which was mortal and she anointed him in the daytime with amvrosía (ambrosia, ἀμβροσία), the beverage of the Gods which bestows immortality. When Pîléfs discovered Liyírôn burning in the fire, he cried out in horror. Thǽtis was frightened by Pîléfs' reaction and offended by her husband's distrust. She fled back to the Nirîídæs (Nerêids, Νηρηΐδες) with the job unfinished. Pîléfs then put the child in the care of the Kǽntavros (Centaur, Κένταυρος) Kheirôn (Cheirôn, Χείρων) who re-named the boy Akhilléfs.

The name Akhilléfs may have some bearing on the nature and root of his purpose and journey. The suggested etymology of his name is ἄχος "pain, distress” + λαός "the people.” The word λαός can also mean "rock." There is a relation because of the story of Defkalíôn (Deucaliôn, Δευκαλίων) and Pýrra (Πύρρα). These two were the only survivors of the great flood. Now alone in the world, they prayed to Zefs (Ζεύς) that he might grant them more companionship. Zefs commanded them to walk and throw the bones of their mother behind them; this they took to mean stones (λᾶες), the “bones” of Mother Earth. They did so and the stones transformed into people. So using this etymology, the name Akhilléfs means "the grief of the people."

By the time Akhilléfs was a young man, the war against Tría (Troy, Τροία) had commenced. Kálkhas (Calchas, Κάλχας), the seer of Árgos (Ἄργος), foretold that victory could not be achieved without the participation of Akhilléfs. The Greeks sent Odysséfs (Odysseus or Ulysses, Ὀδυσσεύς) the king of Itháki (Ithaca, Ἰθάκη), in search of the youth. Odysséfs was renowned for his cleverness, for Thǽtis, the mother of the boy, being divine and having some knowledge of the future, realized that her son would perish if he were to participate in the war, so the Goddess disguised beautiful Akhilléfs in the apparel of a young maiden and entrusted him to Lykomídîs (Lycomêdês, Λυκομήδης) the king of the island of Skýros (Scyros, Σκύρος). While at court, Akhilléfs had an affair with Dîidámeia (Dêïdamia, Δηιδάμεια), one of the daughters of the king. She bore him a son who was at first called Pýrros (Pyrrhus, Πύρρος) but later known as Næoptólæmos (Neoptolemus, Νεοπτόλεμος). When Odysséfs came searching for the Akhilléfs, he could not find him, only young maidens, but the secret of Akhilléfs' disguise was revealed by the lad's reaction to the blast of a trumpet. The true identity of Akhilléfs was now revealed and he was persuaded to join the campaign and go to Tría to fight along with the other heroes.

Akhilléfs now departed from the island, accompanied by Pátroklos (Patroclus, Πάτροκλος), who may have been his cousin:

"It should be observed that the ancient narrative hands down the account that Patroclus was even a kinsman of Achilles; for Hesiod says that Menoetius (ed. Μενοίτιος) the father of Patroclus, was a brother of Peleus (ed. Πηλεύς), so that in that case they were first cousins." [2]

In any case, Pátroklos was the favorite of Akhilléfs and likely his lover [3]. They departed to join the Greeks along with fifty ships and their accompanying troops. [4]

Akhilléfs in the Iliás

Akhilléfs is the central figure of the Iliás (Iliad, Ἰλιάς), the great epic tale of deifications by Ómiros (Homer, Ὅμηρος), the most famous bard of the ancient Greeks. The story of the Iliás begins in the tenth year of the war against Tría (Troy, Τροία = Ἴλιον = Ἴλιος).

The Iliás opens with the anger of Akhilléfs, cheated of his battle-prize, the girl Vriséfs (Briseus, Βρισεύς). The particulars of how Akhilléfs was cheated of this girl is as follows. There was a priest of Apóllôn (Apollô, Ἀπόλλων) amongst the Trojans by the name of Khrýsîs (Chrysês, Χρύσης). This priest had a daughter named Khrysîís (Chrysêis, Χρυσηΐς, her name very similar to her father’s). This girl was captured and given as a battle-prize to the leader of the Akhaií (Achaeans, Ἀχαιοί. i.e. the Greeks), king Agamǽmnôn (Agamemnôn, Ἀγαμέμνων). The priest, enraged at the loss of his daughter, brought on the wrath of Apóllôn in the form of a plague. Akhilléfs told the Akhaií that Agamǽmnôn must return the girl to her father if the plague was to end. This suggestion infuriated Agamǽmnôn. He returned the girl to the priest, but in revenge Agamǽmnôn seized Vriséfs, Akhilléfs battle-prize, for himself. Akhilléfs was the greatest warrior of the Akhaií. He was now outraged at this action of Agamǽmnôn and withdrew from battle.

Without Akhilléfs, the Akhaií began to lose, while the Trojans won battle after battle, and soon advanced near the ships of the Greeks. This was a great danger which threatened total destruction to the Akhaií. At this point, Pátroklos beseeched Akhilléfs to intercede, but Akhilléfs refused to fight. Nonetheless, after much pleading, he gave Pátroklos permission to wear his armor. Thus Pátroklos led the Myrmidónæs (Myrmidons, Μυρμιδόνες) into battle. Akhilléfs commanded Pátroklos to avoid a confrontation with Ǽktôr (Hectôr, Ἕκτωρ), the son of King Príamos (Priam, Πρίαμος) of Troy. Ǽktôr was the mightiest warrior of the Trojans. Pátroklos was to abandon the battle once the ships of the Greeks were safe. He now entered the battleground wearing the armor of Akhilléfs, and after scoring many victories, killed Sarpidóhn (Sarpêdôn, Σαρπηδών), a great hero of the Trojans and a son of Zefs. This aroused the fury of Ǽktôr who now sought revenge, but Pátroklos, over-confident from his victories, forgot his promise to Akhilléfs. He now accepted this challenge and in the ensuing contest was defeated and killed by Ǽktôr.

The Armor of Akhilléfs and the Slaying of Ǽktôr

The death of Pátroklos infuriated Akhilléfs and drew him back into the battle, but his armor had been lost to Ǽktôr. Thǽtis, the mother of Akhilléfs, sought out Íphaistos (Hephaestus, Ἥφαιστος) the divine metal-smith, and requested that he construct new armor for her son [5]. Akhilléfs, now adorned with the magnificent armor fashioned for him by the God, slew Ǽktôr and dragged his body around the city with his chariot.

For twelve days Akhilléfs desecrated the body of Ǽktôr, but his anger subsided when King Príamos stole into his camp in the dark of night, led by Ærmís (Hermês, Ἑρμῆς), and begged for the body of his son, which had been miraculously preserved from corruption by the Gods. In the dialogue which followed, the two men wept and Akhilléfs returned the corpse of Ǽktôr to Príamos.

The Deification of Akhilléfs

[The Iliás closes before both the conquest of Tría and the death of Akhilléfs. The events that followed are enumerated in various sources including the Αἰθιοπὶς Ἀρκτίνου Μιλησίου (attributed such but there is question of its authorship), an epic poem which has been lost but some of its content is known. There was also the Ἰλιὰς μικρά, attributed to various authors, another lost work. The version of the story we are using is from the late 4th century, τα μετὰ τον Όμηρο Κοΐντου Σμυρναῖου (Posthomerica).]

As the war continued, Mǽmnôn (Memnôn, Mέμνων) of Aithiopía (Ethiopia, Αἰθιοπία, not the same geographical area as modern Ethiopia) came to the defense of Tría. This king killed Andílokhos (Antilochus, Ἀντίλοχος), the son of Nǽstôr (Nestôr, Νέστωρ) and a close friend to Akhilléfs. Thus, drawn again into the battle, Akhilléfs slew Mǽmnôn. [6]

Akhilléfs fought furiously to the very gates of Tría, and Apóllôn, observing the carnage from on high, descended into the fighting to intercede:

"Down from Olympus with a lion-leap

He came: his quiver on his shoulders lay,

And shafts that deal the wounds incurable.

Facing Achilles stood he; round him clashed

Quiver and arrows; blazed with quenchless flame

His eyes, and shook the earth beneath his feet." [7]

Phívos (Phoibus, Φοίβος) then told Akhilléfs to cease his slaughter, but Akhilléfs, with the Fates hovering around him, refused. The God turned his back:

"From mortal sight he vanished into cloud,

And cloaked with mist a baleful shaft he shot

Which leapt to Achilles' ankle." [8]

There are other versions of the death of Akhilléfs, most famously from an arrow by Páris (Πάρις) guided by Apóllôn. [9]

Akhilléfs was already at the Eighth Íkos (Oikos = House, Οἶκος), a Demigod soon to be deified. He is being killed with an arrow to the mortal part of his body, the heel. As we are taught in Hellenic mythology, when an Olympian God kills, he deifies.

"It is said that after death Achilles consorts with Medea in the Isles of the Blest." [10]

After the death of Akhilléfs the Greeks gave him a glorious funeral and games were held [11]. His mother, the Goddess Thǽtis bestowed prizes and then offered his magnificent armor to the mightiest of the Argives. Idomænéfs (Idomeneus, Ἰδομενεύς), Nǽstôr, and Agamǽmnôn were to choose who would receive the prize, but they refused to judge. The various contenders made their plea and by consent the armor went to Odysséfs. [12]


[1] Βιβλιοθήκη Ἀπολλοδώρου Book 3.XIII.6-8.

[2] Γυναικῶν Κατάλογος Ἡσιόδου (Catalog of Women) 61, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[3] While in Ἰλιάς Ὁμήρου we find no mention of a romantic attachment between Akhilléfs and Pátroklos, such a relationship is found in other ancient authors. In the speech of Phaidros (Phaedrus, Φαῖδρος) in Συμπόσιον Πλάτωνος we find this paragraph:

"Very different was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus---his lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far). And greatly as the Gods honour the virtue of love, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and valued and rewarded by them, for the lover is more divine; because he is inspired by God. Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector. Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only in his defence, but after he was dead. Wherefore the Gods honoured him even above Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest."

(Συμπόσιον Πλάτωνος 179e-180b, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.)

The above reference is to the Ἀχιλληΐς Αἰσχύλου. While this play of Aiskhýlos (Aeschylus, Αἰσχύλος) is lost, we have fragments which confirm that Akhilléfs and Pátroklos were lovers.

[4] "fifty ships" Ἰλιὰς Ὁμήρου Book 2.685.

[5] Ἰλιὰς Ὁμήρου Book 18:475-617. The Armor of Akhilléfs is one of the Mystíria (Mysteries, Μυστήρια).

[6] τα μετὰ τον Όμηρο (Post-Homerica) Κοΐντου Σμυρναῖου Book 2.388-548.

[7] τα μετὰ τον Όμηρο Κοΐντου Σμυρναῖου Book 3.32-37, trans. A. S. Way, 1913.

8] Ibid. A. S. Way, Posthomerica Book 3.60-63, p. 121.

[9] Βιβλιοθήκη Ἀπολλοδώρου Epitome v. 3:

"Having chased the Trojans also, Achilles was shot with an arrow in the ankle by Alexander (ed. another name of Πάτροκλος) and Apollo at the Scaean gate."

(trans. Sir J. G. Frazer, 1921.)

[10] Βιβλιοθήκη Ἀπολλοδώρου Epitome v. 5, trans. Sir J. G. Frazer, 1921.

[11] τα μετὰ τον Όμηρο Κοΐντου Σμυρναῖου Book 4.62-595.

[12] τα μετὰ τον Όμηρο Κοΐντου Σμυρναῖου Book 5.1-321.

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