The Final Battles
Though Achilles himself would not fight, he agreed to lend his armor to his squire, friend, and lover Patroclus, who was inspired to join the battle. Patroclus performed valiantly, but soon died at the hands of Hector.
I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight
Stung by the loss of Patroclus, Achilles finally returned to battle. (At the request of Thetis, who had reared Hephaestus after Hera had thrown him out of Mount Olympus, the god of artisans forged new armor for Achilles.)
What a Life!
When Patroclus died, the immortal horses that had pulled his chariot—Xanthus and Balius—wept. Zeus, observing their mourning, rued the day he placed them among the miserable race of men. When Achilles resumed his place in the chariot, Xanthus—given the power of speech by Hera—warned him of his impending death. But Achilles would not hear it, and the Furies silenced Xanthus forever.
Achilles cut through the battlefield in a fury. He savagely killed dozens of Trojans and tossed them into the river Scamander. Finding his waters choked with the mighty warrior's victims, the river god rose up against Achilles. Scamander flooded the plain where Achilles fought, but Hephaestus saved the hero from drowning by drying up the river with a single, tremendous flame.
Though Hector tried to compel the Trojans to stand their ground, Achilles almost single-handedly forced the Trojan troops to retreat inside the walls of their city. Hector alone came out to challenge Achilles on the battlefield. Achilles chased and finally slew the Trojan hero, then desecrated Hector's body, dragging the corpse behind his chariot and circling the walls of Troy three times. Only after both Priam and Thetis appealed to him did Achilles give up the body for burial.
Love Among the Ruins
Though his fury died down somewhat after the death of Hector, Achilles remained a formidable warrior until his death. When Penthesileia, the Amazon queen, arrived and fought valiantly on the side of the Trojans, it was Achilles who defeated her. As she died, however, Penthesileia looked into the eyes of her killer. In that moment, Achilles fell in love with her. The Amazon queen was so beautiful that Achilles wept as he stripped her corpse of her armor.
The impulsive murder of Thersites—who mocked the hero's feelings toward his victim—forced Achilles to take leave from the fighting. He traveled to Lesbos, where he made sacrifices to Apollo, Artemis, and Leto before Odysseus purified him.
Upon his return to the battlefield, Achilles killed Memnon, the king of Ethiopia and nephew of Priam, who had come to aid the Trojans with an army of thousands.
Achilles, the mightiest of all Greek warriors, achieved no more victories on the battlefield. From inside the walls of Troy, Paris—with the considerable assistance of Apollo, the archer god—shot an arrow that pierced the hero's vulnerable heel.
The Greeks constructed a funeral pyre to honor their fallen hero. After his corpse had been burned, Thetis and her 49 sisters (the Nereids) arose from the sea. After collecting her son's ashes in a golden urn, she mixed them with the ashes of Achilles' slain friend and lover, Patroclus, and disappeared back into the sea.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.