- Dalia Ventura
- BBC News World
We all have an Achilles heel, literally and figuratively.
In fact, in the first case, we have two, which are also called Achilles tendons.
They are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect the calf muscles to the heel bone. When the calf muscles flex, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel and that is the movement that allows us to stand on our toes when walking, running or jumping.
And they are lthe largest and strongest tendons in the body, which is curious because we use the expression “Achilles heel” to refer to the weak point of a person or thing.
But that, like so much more, we owe to the wonderful imagination of the Ancient Greeks.
There are several versions of the story of Achilles, the greatest of all the Greek heroes of the Trojan War, but in all the prophecies they mark his life, even before he was born.
Thetis, his mother, was a nymph or goddess of the sea with whom Zeus, the king of the gods, and Poseidon, the god of the sea, had fallen in love, who were doing their best to conquer her.
One version tells that Thetis rejected the two gods and Zeus was so enraged that he decreed that he would never marry one.
Another says that Themis – the one of ‘good advice’, the embodiment of divine order, laws and customs – and Prometheus – the Mortal-friendly Titan – knew that it was vital to the Olympic order that neither of them should marry. Tetis
The reason? It was written “that the goddess of the sea would have a princely son, stronger than his father, who would wield another weapon in his hand more powerful than lightning or the irresistible trident“.
In other words, that the nymph’s son would become more magnificent than his father, something that would not cheer either of the two Olympian gods.
They alerted the gods just in time: Zeus was about to sleep with Thetis when he found out.
And he was so concerned that he made sure Thetis married a mortal man to that his son could never defy divine power.
The chosen one was Peleus, king of the renowned warriors known as myrmidons, who, from the point of view of the gods, had several points in his favor: he was the most pious man on the planet; He was worthy enough to have a divine wife and, more importantly, he was a mortal, so he could not beget an immortal son.
No matter how magnificent the creature became, its greatness would have an end.
The only divinity who was not happy with the decision was Thetis, who did not resign herself to accepting that one day her son would be so cruelly taken away by the ruthless Death, something that would not happen to her, being a goddess.
So did everything possible to avoid the greatest pain a mother can feel, that of surviving his son.
Some narratives say that the goddess of the sea tried to immortalize Achilles through a long purification ritual that consisted of gradually burning his immortality in fire every night and anointing his body with ambrosia. When she was about to complete the task, Peleo surprised and horrified her so much to see her put her son on fire that he did not want to listen to his wife’s explanations.
Another more amiable version indicates that Thetis took Achilles to the river Estix, which marked the boundary between the world of the living and that of the dead.
To make him invincible, invulnerable and immortal, the goddess immersed her baby in the waters of the river, whose name styx means “shudder” and expresses disgust for death.
The only part of Achilles’ body that remained vulnerable was his heel, for it was from there that Thetis supported him by bathing him in the magical waters.
That wasn’t the only precaution Achilles’ parents took to prevent his death.
They made sure he was educated by none other than Chiron, “the wisest and most just of all centaurs,” a mentor to many of the great heroes of mythology, including Jason and Peleus, the Argonauts, and Asclepius, the god of medicine. and healing.
Under his care, Achilles was fed a diet that included entrails of lions and wild pigs, and wolf marrow, to strengthen him while he learned about hunting, as well as about music and intellectual activities.
In addition, according to some mythographers, when Peleus received an oracle that his son would die fighting in Troy, he hid it in the court of Lycomedes in Scirus, disguised as a girl among the many daughters of the king, to prevent him from joining the battle.
However, fate was written and another prophecy saw to it being fulfilled.
When the soothsayer Calchas told the Greeks that they could not win the war to rescue the kidnapped Helen from the hands of Prince Paris of Troy without the help of Achilles, they searched for it and found it.
As fate dictated
What followed was epic, as Homer has been telling us since the 8th century BC.
The 51 days of the last year of the war that “The Iliad” tells us begin with an angry dispute between Agamemnon “the Atrida, king of men, and the divine Achilles“and ends with the funeral of Hector, the eldest son of King Priam and the most famous hero of Troy, whom Achilles had killed in a duel and dragged for days tied to his chariot.
But while it tells us a lot about Achilles’ heroism, strength, and camaraderie, as well as his fury, Homer does not mention his death, although Héctor predicts it with his last breath and the “Odyssey” talks about his funeral.
And the great Greek writer at no time does he mention his heel (Among others, it does not speak of the Trojan horse either).
The story of the death of the great hero was left in the hands of other poets, who narrated, for example, who then faced the Ethiopian king Memnon, who had come to support the Trojans, and killed him in battle.
They also said that he fell in love with the queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea, when their eyes met the moment his spear pierced her … too late.
And several said that Achilles died when an arrow, shot by the Trojan prince Paris, whose flight with the beautiful (and married) Helena had unleashed the war with the Greeks, reached him.
In what is perhaps the most famous story of his end, the hero died on the battlefield against the Trojans.
In another version, he was scaling the walls of Troy and about to sack the city when it happened.
Other accounts tell that Achilles had fallen so much in love with Polyxena, Priam’s daughter, that he agreed to defect to the Trojan side if the king allowed them to marry him. So it was, but when Achilles went to the temple to ratify the commitment in the eyes of the gods, Paris, in hiding, shot him.
However, most sources claim that it was the god Apollo -who supported the Trojans- the one who guided the arrow to its vulnerable point: the heel.
Only in this way do they manage to defeat the warrior who appears in the first line of the “Iliad”, whose anger sets the whole story in motion, that demigod, murderer, looter, moody, temperamental, ruthless and cruel but also the one who is always the fastest , sharper, bigger, brighter, more important and more beautiful than other men.
But although his mother, being immortal, probably continues to mourn his death, Achilles has lived in the collective memory for some 28 centuries …
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.