LGBTQ Heroes: Achilles

The gay man who became a legendary warrior.

In Greek mythology, Achilles was a hero of the Trojan War, the greatest of all the Greek warriors, and is the central character of Homer’s Iliad.

Early years

Achilles was the son of the Thetis, a nereid, and Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons.

Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals for Thetis’s hand in marriage until Prometheus, the fore-thinker, warned Zeus of a prophecy that Thetis would bear a son greater than his father. For this reason, the two gods withdrew their pursuit, and had her wed Peleus.

Part of the legend of Achilles is that when he was born, Thetis tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx. However, he was left vulnerable at the part of the body by which she held him – his left heel. Although this story seems to have emerged at a later date than the original events of the Trojan war.

Peleus entrusted Achilles to Chiron the Centaur, who lived on Mount Pelion, to be reared. Thetis foretold that her son’s fate was either to gain glory and die young, or to live a long but uneventful life in obscurity. Achilles chose the former, and decided to take part in the Trojan War.

Achilles and Patroclus

Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. They were distant cousins and had grown up together – Patroclus was a few years older than Achilles.

Achilles and Patroclus fought together in the Trojan War.

Trojan War

Homer’s Iliad is the most famous narrative of Achilles’ deeds in the Trojan War.

According to the Iliad, Achilles arrived at Troy with 50 ships, each carrying 50 warriors.

In battle, Patroclus was killed by Hector – Prince of Troy.

Achilles was devastated by the death of Patroclus. Enraged with grief, Achilles killed Hector and dragged his body behind a chariot.

Achilles was also killed in battle at Troy, and – at his request – his ashes were combined with those of Patroclus so they could be buried together.

The Achilles Heel

Part of the legend of Achilles is that he was invincible apart from the heel of one foot – that’s why we have the saying about an Achilles Heel. Your Achilles Heel is the thing that makes you vulnerable.

One interpretation of the stories surrounding Achilles is that the Achilles Heel relates to his relationship with Patroclus – his love for Patroclus is what made him vulnerable.

When Achilles lost Patroclus, his grief clouded his judgment as a warrior. Patroclus was the Achilles Heel.

So, you could see references to having an Achilles Heel as being code for wanting a bit of man-on-man action.