Thetis: Not Just a Greek Nymph

More than Achilles's Mom

Neptune presenting a dolphin to Theseus.
Image ID: 1624027 Neptune presenting a dolphin to Theseus. (1844-1861). NYPL Digital Gallery

Thetis was the nymph who was mother to the Trojan War hero Achilles. But she was more than just one guy's mother.

Background

Thetis  and one of the 50 Nereid daughters of Nereus (son of Gaia [Earth] and Pontos [Sea]; whom Hercules seizes in order to extract information pertinent to his labors) and Doris (daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys). She might not have been Achilles' mother, if things had gone differently, though.

At one time, the king of the Greek gods, Zeus, had been wooing her, but a prophecy that the son would be greater than the father made Zeus give her up. After all, he didn't want a repeat episode of what happened with his own dad.

As Prometheus prophesied in Aeschylus's play Prometheus Bound, the god "plans a marriage that shall hurl him into oblivion from his sovereignty and throne; and then immediately the curse his father Cronus invoked as he fell from his ancient throne, shall be fulfilled to the uttermost." Thankfully, Zeus averted that by marrying Thetis off to another man...

Marriage

Instead, Thetis married a mortal king, Peleus, at the command of Zeus. It was at this wedding that Eris, goddess of discord, tossed an apple for the most beautiful goddess of them all into the crowd and kicked off the events precipitating the Trojan War. The bride and groom produced a son, Achilles, whom Thetis tried to make immortal.

She dipped her infant son into the River Styx, holding him by the ankle, according to tradition. This made him invulnerable, except at the one weak spot where Thetis had held him. Peleus didn't agree with this risky treatment and Thetis left him. 

Thetis also shows up in Homer's Iliad where she offers to get Achilles a new and better suit of armor and shield from the blacksmith of the gods, Hephaestus.

Hephaestus was in her debt because Thetis and her sisters had cared for him when Hera threw him down from Olympus. As mentioned in the Homeric Hymn 3 to Apollo, "But silver-shod Thetis the daughter of Nereus took and cared for him with her sisters…" In the Iliad, Homer says that Thetis also rescued Dionysus from folks pursuing him: "But Dionysus fled, and plunged beneath the wave of the sea, and Thetis received him in her bosom, filled with dread, for mighty terror gat hold of him at the man's threatenings."

During the war, Thetis gave her son good advice, but he still tragically perished.

-Edited by Carly Silver