Born of a sea nymph and a Thessalian king, Achilles was mortal, but his mother Thetis struggled to find a way to make a god of him.
According to the most renowned version, she dipped him in the icy waters of the infernal river Styx, holding the baby by the heel; he emerged from it shielded by godly invulnerability, save the part which had not been touched by the river, his heel. In that very point he would later receive a mortal blow, an arrow darted by prince Paris with the aid of Apollo.
Following this tale, only reported in the now lost Achilleis by latin poet Statius (I century A.D.), the expression “Achilles’ heel” has sprung, as well as the more common name for the calcaneal tendon.
Nevertheless, older poets and mythographers tell another story: Thetis, behind her husband Peleus’back, anointed baby Achilles’ body with ambrosia, the food of the gods, and overnight she burned over a fire the mortal part of him (see Demeter and Demophoon in Eleusis); once, caught red-handed by her husband, she interrupted the ritual and disappeared into the waves, leaving her son to his fatal destiny.
Invulnerable or not, to Achilles was accorded to reside, after his death, on the sacred White Island in the Black Sea, eternal spouse to the fairest Helen.
This sort of “happy ending”, aside from the rich evidences both archaeological and literary, which call him the main deity of the whole Black Sea, the initiation with ambrosia and fire, and some suggestive etymological theories, leaves no doubts that Achilles was in an earlier period a significant god, perhaps water-linked like his mother, who then appeared to the Greeks as the most divine between men.
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