Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 143

Refer to caption


Agamemnon made chief.

At Aulis the assembled army with unanimous consent elected [314] Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother, chief of the expedition, which numbered, among many others, Nestor, noted for his wise counsel; Ajax, gigantic in strength and courage; and Diomedes, the renowned warrior.

The troops were assembled, the vessels freighted; but before they departed, the chiefs considered it expedient to consult an oracle, to ascertain whether their expedition was destined to succeed. In a somewhat veiled and ambiguous manner, they received answer that Troy could never be taken without the aid of the son of Peleus and Thetis, Achilles, of whom the Fates had predicted that he would surpass his father in greatness (p. 305).

Achilles’ early life.

Thetis loved this only child so dearly, that when he was but a babe, she had carried him to the banks of the Styx, whose waters had the magic power of rendering all the parts they touched invulnerable. Premising that her son would be a great warrior, and thus exposed to great danger, she plunged him wholly into the tide with the exception of one heel, by which she held him, and then returned home.

Some time after, an oracle foretold that Achilles would die beneath the walls of Troy from a wound in his heel, the only vulnerable part of his body. With many tears Thetis vowed that her son should never leave her to encounter such a fate, and intrusted the care of his education to the Centaur Chiron, who had taught all the greatest heroes in turn.

From this instructor Achilles learned the arts of war, wrestling, poetry, music, and song,—all, in short, that an accomplished Greek warrior was expected to know,—and, when his studies were finished, returned to his father’s court to gladden his fond mother’s heart by his presence.

Thetis’ joy was all turned to grief, however, when rumors of the war imminent between Greece and Troy came to her ears. She knew her son would soon be summoned, and, to prevent his going, sent him off to the court of Lycomedes, where, under some pretext, he was prevailed upon to assume a disguise and mingle with the king’s daughters and their handmaidens.

[315] One messenger after another was dispatched to summon Achilles to join the fleet at Aulis, but one after another returned without having seen him, or being able to ascertain where he was hiding.