Student Question

Does Achilles die in the Iliad?

Quick answer:

In the Iliad, Achilles's death is not actually described. However, most accounts of the Trojan War suggest that Achilles was killed by Paris, the Trojan prince, using an arrow which enters his heel, his most vulnerable spot.

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Achilles's death is a well-known story from Greek mythology. When he was a child, Achilles's mother, Thetis, dipped him into a substance that made him immortal, but a vulnerable spot remained on his heel, in the place where he was held while being dipped. As such, Achilles could only be killed if he was shot in this spot—his “Achilles heel.” Most accounts of the Trojan War state that Achilles was shot by Paris in the heel, and that the event was orchestrated or guided by the god Apollo, who knew of Achilles's vulnerability.

However, the death of Achilles is not actually described in Homer's Iliad. This does not indicate that Homer did not believe in the death of Achilles as it is usually told. On the contrary, Achilles's death is mentioned in the Odyssey, which immediately follows the Iliad, and the hero of that story, Odysseus, actually speaks to Achilles in the form of a spirit. Achilles's death is simply not described in the Iliad because the story comes to an end before Achilles's death. Homer's Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector, after Achilles has held on to his body and appeals have been made to him to give the body back.

It is usually believed that after the death of Achilles, his ashes were mixed with those of his beloved Patroclus, whose death is such a pivotal moment in the Iliad. It is possible that the story of Achilles's death was so well known to Homer's original audience that he did not feel the need to describe it.

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