Achilles Myth: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Evans

Mary has taught elementary school for six years and has a master's degree in education.

Have you ever heard anyone refer to a weakness as their 'Achilles heel'? This common reference comes from the story of Achilles in Greek mythology, and in this lesson you'll learn more about the story behind this common saying.

Achilles, the Myth

Achilles was the mortal son of King Peleus of the Myrmidians and the sea nymph Thetis (a goddess). He was a great, handsome hero of the Battle of Troy in the Trojan War. There are many stories about Achilles, including Homer's Iliad.

As is the case with most traditional literature, there are multiple versions of Achilles' myth. These have many similarities but also vary from time to time. A myth is a traditional story from ancient culture that was invented to explain natural events and many of the culture's common practices. Greek mythology is a collection of these stories that are interrelated and share many of the same characters and details.

The Story Behind His Heel

There are two stories behind the famous ''Achilles heel.'' The first and most famous is that his mother held him by the ankle and dipped him in the river Styx when he was young. This sounds like a crazy thing to do, but the river supposedly had the power to make him immortal. It had been foretold that Achilles would be a great warrior, and she knew that he would benefit from the protection. The only problem was that by holding him by the ankle, she left that part of his body untouched - and unprotected - by the mystical water.

The second story is that Thetis covered Achilles in ambrosia, the food of the gods. Ambrosia was thought to make people live long or even be immortal. She then tried to burn away the mortal parts of his body with fire but was interrupted before she could finish the job.

The Great Battle of Troy

Achilles was the hero of the Battle of Troy, which lasted ten years. When he was young, a seer foretold that he would have a lot of glory in battle but would also die young. His mother knew he would not be safe, so she sent him into hiding for awhile. But Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, knew he needed Achilles to take the city of Troy. Odysseus found Achilles so he could fight. Achilles went willingly and proved his worth as a great warrior.

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