Achilles’ heel

Publicado em 13/09/10

Curious as to where the expression, “That’s my Achilles’ heel” originated from?

Have you seen the movie Troy? When Brad Pitt played the role of Achilles in the movie, he depicted the literal derivation of the famous and frequent phrase, “That’s my Achilles’ heel.” As it took an arrow being shot into Achilles’ tendon in the ankle (named the Achilles tendon, after the legendary Greek warrior) to bring about the death of the mighty warrior Achilles, an “Achilles’ heel” now refers to any weakness or vulnerability that would lead to one’s death.

The following explanation affords an interesting and accurate account of the origins of the expression.

An Achilles’ heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, which can actually or potentially lead to downfall. While the mythological origin refers to a physical vulnerability, metaphorical references to other attributes or qualities that can lead to downfall are common.

The strongest and largest tendon, the Achilles tendon connects muscles in the lower leg with the heel bone. Sports that tighten the calf muscles can overstress this tendon and cause a strain (Achilles tendinitis) or a rupture.

Origin

The death of Achilles was not mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, but appeared in later Greek and Roman poetry and drama concerning events after the Iliad, later in the Trojan War. In the myths surrounding the war, Achilles was said to have died from a heel wound which was the result of an arrow – possibly poisoned – shot by Paris.

Classical myths attribute Achilles’ invulnerability to a treatment of Ambrosia and burning away of his mortality in the house fire except on the heel, with which he was held by his mother Thetis. Peleus, his father, discovered the treatment and angered Thetis, who fled into the sea.

According to a myth  that arose later, his mother had dipped the infant Achilles in the river Styx, holding onto him by his heel, and he became invulnerable where the waters touched him – that is, everywhere except the areas of his heel that were covered by her thumb and forefinger. It is not clear how the waters of the Styx, which silenced the gods for nine years, could confer immortality; or how Thetis could gain access to them; or how Peleus would accidentally discover the project.

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