The Wrath of Achilles

Sing, Muse, of the Wrath of Achilles, Peleus' son
which sent the souls of heroes in their thousands
howling into the underworld and left their bodies
as a feast for the dogs and carrion birds
that the will of Zeus might be accomplished.

When the lords of the Greeks reached Troy with their thousand black ships, they found that destroying the city and bringing Helen back to Sparta would not be as easy as they had hoped. Troy was built on a steep hill overlooking the sea, and the city's walls were tall and strong. The Trojans shut the gates, and the Greeks could not break through.

So the Greeks built a camp at the seashore, next to their ships, and they waited. Sometimes they raided other nearby cities to capture treasure and slaves, and sometimes the Trojan warriors came out from the city to battle with them. Nine years passed in this way.

One day, an old man named Chryses came to the Greek camp. He was a priest of the god Apollo from a nearby city, and his beautiful daughter had been taken as a slave when the Greeks attacked his city. Chryses begged king Agamemnon to give his daughter back, but Agamemnon (who had taken the beautiful girl to be his servant) did not want to. He said, "Go away old man, or your old age will not stop me from giving you the beating you deserve."

Chryses went away and prayed to the god Apollo, "Great Apollo, I have been insulted by the Greeks, and they have taken my daughter and made her a slave. Make them suffer until they see that they cannot mock your priests."

Apollo hear Chryses prayer, and since he liked the old man, he made himself invisible and went through the Greek camp killing many warriors with a terrible illness. When the lords of the Greeks saw that so many of their men were dying of plague, they knew that one of the gods must be angry with them, so they asked a soothsayer what to do. The soothsayer said that Apollo had sent the plague on them because Agamemnon had insulted Chryses, and that if they gave back Chryses' daughter along with many gifts, Apollo would stop killing the soldiers.

Agamemnon was a very proud man, and he did not want to give up his beautiful servant girl. Everyone else was afraid to argue with him, except Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors. Achilles said, "You are a great king, Agamemnon, but you will not be a king much longer if all your men die of plague. Send back Chryses' daughter to her family, or Apollo will kill us all."

At that, Agamemnon relented, and he sent Chryses back to her father with rich gifts. Then Chryses prayed to Apollo and asked him to stop the plague. But Agamemnon wanted to punish Achilles for standing up to him, so he took Bryseis, the servant girl that Achilles had taken in the same raid, to be his servant instead.

Now, Achilles was just as proud as Agamemnon, and so he announced that if Agamemnon was going to take away his servant girl, he would refuse to fight any more, even if all the Greeks were slaughtered. Then Achilles called to his mother, Thetis, who was a sea nymph, and he begged her to make sure that the Greeks would be defeated in battle so that they would see how badly they needed him.

Thetis felt sorry for her son, and so she went to Zeus, the king of the gods, and asked for his help. "I mean to make the Greeks win the war," Zeus said. "But to please you, I will let them lose for a while, until they see how badly they need Achilles' help. Then Agamemnon will be forced to beg for his help, and your son will be honored again among the Greeks."

Now the Trojans came down to do battle against the Greeks. Their greatest warrior was Hector, the older brother of Prince Alexander. Alexander liked to keep his distance from the battle, and he often ran back to the city to spend time with the beautiful Helen. But Hector was a brave fighter and always stood at the front of the Trojan ranks.

Despite the plague, the Greeks still had many warriors: Agamemnon, Menelaus, giant Ajax, clever Odysseus and fierce Diomede. But without the help of Achilles, even these great warriors could not hold the Trojans back. Hector and the Trojans drove the Greeks all the way back to their ships, and they began to set the ships on fire.

This made Athena and Hera very angry. They wanted Troy to be destroyed because Alexander had ruled against them in the contest for the golden apple. The goddesses went down to rally the Greeks and give strength to their heroes, but Aphrodite and Apollo and Ares, the god of war, all fought on the side of the Trojans, and the Greeks continued to lose the battle.

As Achilles and his men sat by their ships and watched the other Greeks suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of the Trojans, it became too much for Achilles best friend, Patroklos. He begged Achilles to return to the fighting and help the Greeks, but when Achilles refused, he put on Achilles armor himself and went out to fight in his place.

Many of the Greeks and Trojans thought that Patroklos was was Achilles, and so the Trojans fell back and the Greeks found new hope. Patroklos himself was a great warrior, and he helped the Greeks drive the Trojans all the way back to the walls of the city. Three times he tried to climb the walls and get inside the city itself, but each time Apollo knocked him down. Then Hector fought Patroklos and killed him. Once again the Greeks lost courage, and the Trojans drove them back to their ships.

When Achilles heard that his friend Patroklos had been killed he wept. Then he became angry, and he swore he will kill Hector in revenge. But it was too late in the day for Achilles to go into battle that night, so while the Greeks slept Achilles mother, the sea nymph Thetis, went to Hephestus, the smith of the gods. His back was hunched and his leg was lame, but in his forge deep in the earth he could forge weapons of incomparable power. Thetis begged him to make a new shield and suit of armor for Achilles that would be impenetrable to any mortal weapon.

The next morning, Achilles went out to battle wearing the armor Hephestus had made for him, and no one could stand before him. He killed dozens of Trojans and the rest fled into the city and shut the gates. The only Trojan who dared to remain outside to fight him was Hector.

Athena wanted to help Achilles kill the Trojan hero, so she made herself look like Hector's brother Deiphobus and said to him, "I will help you so that you can fight Achilles and kill him."

Hector and Achilles faced each other. Achilles threw his spear first, but Hector ducked under it and was not hurt. Then Hector threw his spear with all his strength, but although he struck Achilles' shield squarely in the center, the shield made by Hephestus was too strong to be broken. The spear only bounced off.

Athena magically returned Achilles' spear to him, but when Hector called out to what he thought was his brother for another spear, Athena simply vanished. Then Hector knew that he had been tricked by one of the gods and that he would soon die. He drew his sword and rushed at Achilles, but Achilles stabbed him with his spear before Hector could even reach him. Hector died, and the Trojans who had been watching the fight from the city walls wept.

Killing Hector was not enough to satisfy Achilles' anger. He tied the body of the Trojan hero to his chariot, and every day he dragged it through the dust around the walls of Troy to remind the Trojans that he had defeated their greatest warrior.

At last, King Priam could bear it no more. At night he walked down to the Greek camp unarmed, not caring if he was killed. He went to Achilles tent and begged him to return the body of Hector for a proper burial. "When you look at me," he said, "Do not see an enemy king. See an old man broken by the loss of his son. Think of your own father far away in Greece. Think of how he would mourn if your body was dragged through the dust and treated as food for the dogs and carrion birds."

As he listened to Priam's words, Achilles heart softened. He already knew from a prophecy that he too would die on the battlefield outside of Troy. So he returned Hector's body King Priam, and the Trojans buried their fallen hero with many honors.

It was not the last great funeral. Not long afterwards, Alexander, who always preferred to shoot from afar with his bow rather than risking his life in hand-to-hand fighting, shot Achilles with an arrow and killed him. The Greeks and Trojans agreed to stop fighting while the Greeks held a funeral for the greatest of their warriors and built a funeral mound over him.

For recommendations on other re-tellings of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, click here.

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