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[6]

When Thetis had got a babe by Peleus, she wished to make it immortal, and unknown to Peleus she used to hide it in the fire by night in order to destroy the mortal element which the child inherited from its father, but by day she anointed him with ambrosia.1 But Peleus watched her, and, seeing the child writhing on the fire, he cried out; and Thetis, thus prevented from accomplishing her purpose, forsook her infant son and departed to the Nereids.2 Peleus brought the child to Chiron, who received him and fed him on the inwards of lions and wild swine and the marrows of bears,3 and named him Achilles, because he had not put his lips to the breast;4 but before that time his name was Ligyron.


1 This account of how Thetis attempted to render Achilles immortal, and how the attempt was frustrated by Peleus, is borrowed from Ap. Rhod., Argon. iv.869ff. Compare Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 178 (vol. i. p. 458, ed. Muller). According to another legend, Thetis bore seven sons, of whom Achilles was the seventh; she destroyed the first six by throwing them into the fire or into a kettle of boiling water to see whether they were mortal or to make them immortal by consuming the merely mortal portion of their frame; and the seventh son, Achilles, would have perished in like manner, if his father Peleus had not snatched him from the fire at the moment when as yet only his anklebone was burnt. To supply this missing portion of his body, Peleus dug up the skeleton of the giant Damysus, the fleetest of all the giants, and, extracting from it the anklebone, fitted it neatly into the ankle of his little son Achilles, applying drugs which caused the new, or rather old, bone to coalesce perfectly with the rest. See Ptolemy Hephaest., Nov. Hist. vi in Westermann's Mythographi Graeci, p. 195; Lycophron, Cassandra 178ff., with scholium of Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 178 (vol. i. pp. 455ff.); Scholiast on Hom. Il. xvi.37; Scholiast on Aristoph. Cl. 1068, p. 443, ed. Fr. Dubner; Scholiast on Ap. Rhod., Argon. iv.816. A similar story is told of Demeter and the infant son of Celeus. See above, Apollod. 1.5.1, with the note.

2 Compare Ap. Rhod., Argon. iv.875ff., who says that when Thetis was interrupted by Peleus in her effort to make Achilles immortal, she threw the infant screaming on the floor, and rushing out of the house plunged angrily into the sea, and never returned again. In the Iliad Homer represents Thetis dwelling with her old father Nereus and the sea-nymphs in the depths of the sea (Hom. Il. 1.357ff.; Hom. Il. 18.35ff.; Hom. Il. 14.83ff.), while her forlorn husband dragged out a miserable and solitary old age in the halls (Hom. Il. 18.434ff.). Thus the poet would seem to have been acquainted with the story of the quarrel and parting of the husband and wife, though he nowhere alludes to it or to the painful misunderstanding which led to their separation. In this, as in many other places, Homer passes over in silence features of popular tradition which he either rejected as incredible or deemed below the dignity of the epic. Yet if we are right in classing the story of Peleus and Thetis with the similar tales of the marriage of a man to a mermaid or other marine creature, the narrative probably always ended in the usual sad way by telling how, after living happily together for a time, the two at last quarrelled and parted for ever.

3 Compare Scholiast on Hom. Il. xvi.37. According to Statius (Achill. ii.382ff.), Chiron fed the youthful Achilles not on ordinary victuals, but on the flesh and marrows of lions. Philostratus says that his nourishment consisted of honeycombs and the marrows of fawns (Philostratus, Her. xx.2), while the author of the Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. Ἀχιλλεύς, p. 181 says that he was nurtured on the marrows of deer. Compare Eustathius on Hom. Il. 1.1, p. 14. The flesh and marrows of lions, wild boars, and bears were no doubt supposed to impart to the youthful hero who partook of them the strength and courage of these animals, while the marrows of fawns or deer may have been thought to ensure the fleetness of foot for which he was afterwards so conspicuous. It is thus that on the principle of sympathetic magic many races seek to acquire the qualities of certain animals by eating their flesh or drinking their blood; whereas they abstain from eating the flesh of other animals lest they should, by partaking of it, be infected with the undesirable qualities which these creatures are believed to possess. For example, in various African tribes men eat the hearts of lions in order to become lionhearted, while others will not eat the flesh of tortoises lest they should become slow-footed like these animals. See Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, ii.138ff. On the same principle the ancients believed that men could acquire the art of divination by eating the hearts of ravens, moles, or hawks, because these creatures were supposed to be endowed with prophetic powers. See Porphyry, De abstinentia ii.48; Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxx.19. So Medea is said to have restored the aged Aeson to youth by infusing into his veins a decoction of the liver of a long-lived stag and of the head of a crow that had survived nine generations of men. See Ov. Met. 7.273ff.

4 Apollodorus absurdly derives the name Achilles from α (privative) and χείλη, “lips,” so that the word would mean “not lips.” Compare Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. Ἀχιλλεύς, p. 181,; Eustathius on Hom. Il. i.1, p. 14.

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