Achilles was the son of Peleus and Thetis: Peleus was a king in Greece, and Thetis was a nymph.
When Achilles was still a little baby, his mother tried to protect him from harm by dipping him into a river that had special magic water. And it worked; he could not be harmed, except for one heel that his mother held him by as she dipped him in the water. Now when someone is very strong but has one weak spot, we call that their "Achilles' heel." (You might compare this to the story of Siegfried.)
When he grew up, Achilles heard a prophecy. It was this: he could make a choice to live quietly and without fame or honor, and live a long time and die in bed, or he could choose to be famous in his lifetime and remembered always, but to die young. What would you choose?
Achilles chose to be famous and die young, and you can read about how that happened in Homer's Iliad.
To find out more about Achilles, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:
The Iliad of Homer (Oxford Myths and Legends), by Barbara Leonie Picard. A retelling of the story, for kids.
The Iliad (Penguin Classics) by Homer. Translated by Robert Fagles. A great translation!
Approaches to Teaching Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by Kostas Myrsiades (1987).
Achilles, by Mike Chapman (2004). A brief biography of Achilles, with details that aren't in the Iliad about Achilles' childhood.
Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, by Jonathan Shay (1995). A best-seller, about the relationship between the rage of Achilles and PTSD in Vietnam vets. For adults.
Or check out the Encyclopedia Britannica's article on Achilles.
MARTIN L. KING JR.
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