This study examines the death of Achilles in ancient myth, focusing on the hero's imperfect invulnerability. It is concluded that this concept is of late origin, perhaps of the Hellenistic period. Early evidence about Achilles' infancy does not suggest that he was made invulnerable, and early evidence concerning his death apparently indicates that Achilles was wounded more than once. The story of Achilles' heel as we know it is therefore late, though it is demonstrable that certain themes and motifs of earlier traditions about Achilles were preserved in later traditions. What caused the concept of Achilles' imperfect invulnerability to emerge, it is proposed, was the late story in which the hero is ambushed in the temple of Thymbraean Apollo. Certainly Achilles was wounded in the lower leg in early Greek myth. An explanation is needed if this does not reflect the story of his imperfect invulnerability, and the arguments of several scholars are surveyed. The theory that the "swift-footed" hero was first immobilized by a lower wound before being slain is ultimately favored, though it is suggested that invulnerable armor and poison may have played a role. A comparative approach to myth and ritual is employed, with attention given to evidence from various areas (e.g., Scythia, the Near East) and ages (Proto-Indo-European to modern) in an effort to illuminate stories about the infancy and death of Achilles. The study also assesses two alleged reflections in the Iliad of Achilles' death, the death of Patroclus in Book 16 and the wounding of Diomedes in Book 11. The evidence in ancient art and literature about the death of Achilles is often obscure, but this exploration of continuity and innovation in myth about Achilles should assist our understanding of it.
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