(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Achilles was supposed to have been immortal. His mother Thetis, a daughter of the god Oceanus, had hoped that Zeus would have been his father. Zeus knew fate, however, and he realized that any child he fathered of Thetis was destined to overthrow him. As a result, Zeus directed her to Peleus, the mortal king of the Myrmidons, since this would preclude any direct danger to his throne.

Thetis was determined to make her son immortal in any event, and she chose to do this by immersing the infant Achilles in the Styx, the flaming river of immortality in the Underworld. She, of course, left the child's foot unprotected, and it was this vulnerability that provided a means for Helen's Trojan husband, Paris, to kill him in the final days of the ten-year Trojan War.

Elizabeth Cook's Achilles focuses on the prophecy that Achilles was destined to have either a short but glorious life or one that was long but undistinguished. No plans made by Thetis to raise him as a girl in the court of Lycomedes could prevent the young man's heroic manhood from making itself plain. Agamemnon and Odysseus recognize Achilles immediately when the young man claims a warrior's bow rather than women's baubles. Love of glory wins its first battle over love of an anonymous life.

Once Patroclus, Achilles' protege and beloved, dies at the hands of Hector, the greatest of the Trojan warriors, Achilles' immanent death is certain. Paris merely becomes the clumsy...

(The entire section is 414 words.)