Did the Greek Warrior Achilles Have Children?

Neoptolemus was Achilles' only child

Statue of Dying Achilles at Achilleion Palace & Museum in Corfu, Greece
Tim Graham / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Despite rumors of his homosexual tendencies, Achilles did have a child—a son, born from a brief affair during the Trojan War.

The Greek warrior Achilles is never portrayed in the Greek histories as a married man. He had a close relationship with Patroclus of Phthia that ended when Patroclus fought in his place in the Trojan War and died. The death of Patroclus is what finally sent Achilles into battle. All of that has led to speculation that Achilles was gay.

However, after Achilles entered the Trojan War, Briseis, the daughter of the Trojan priest of Apollo named Chryses, was given to Achilles as a war prize. When King of the Greeks Agamemnon appropriated Briseis for himself, Achilles expressed his outrage. Certainly, that seems to suggest that Achilles had at least a part-time interest in women regardless of whatever his relationship was with Patroclus.

Achilles in a Dress?

One reason for the confusion may arise from Achilles' mother Thetis. Thetis was a nymph and a Nereid who tried many different stratagems to protect her beloved son, most famously dipping him in the river Styx to make him immortal, or at least impervious to battle injuries. To keep him out of the Trojan War, she hid Achilles, dressed as a woman, in the court of King Lycomedes on the island of Skyros. The king's daughter Deidamia discovered his true gender and had an affair with him. A boy was born from that affair called Neoptolemus.

Thetis' precautions were all for naught: Odysseus, after his own mad draft-dodging escapade, discovered the transvestite Achilles by means of a ruse. Odysseus brought trinkets to the court of King Lycomedes and all the young women took appropriate baubles except for Achilles who was drawn to the one masculine item, a sword. Achilles still would not fight—instead, he sent Patroclus into battle, and when he died in a battle in which Zeus stood by and let him die, Achilles finally put on the armor and was himself killed.

Neoptolemus

Neoptolemus, sometimes called Pyrrhus ("flame-colored") because of his red hair, was brought to fight in the last year of the Trojan Wars. The Trojan seeress Helenus was captured by the Greeks and she was forced to tell them that they would only capture Troy if their warriors included a descendant of Aeacus in the battle. Achilles had already died, shot by a poisoned arrow in the heel, the only place in his body not made impervious by his dip in the Styx. His son Neoptolemus was sent into battle and, as Helenus foretold, the Greeks were able to capture Troy. The Aeneid reports that Neoptolemus killed Priam and many others in retribution for the death of Achilles.

Neoptolemus survived the Trojan War and lived to marry three times. One of his wives was Andromache, the widow of Hector, who had been killed by Achilles.

Neoptolemus and Sophocles

In the Greek playwright Sophocles' play Philoctetes, Neoptolemus is portrayed as a deceitful man who betrays the friendly, hospitable lead character. Philoctetes was a Greek who was exiled on the island of Lemnos when the rest of the Greeks went on to Troy. He had been injured and stranded as a result of his offending a nymph (or perhaps Hera or Apollo—the legend varies in several places) and left ill and alone in a cave far from his home.

In the play, Philoctetes had been exiled 10 years when Neoptolemus visited him to take him back to Troy. Philoctetes begged him not to take him back to the battle but to take him home. Neoptolemus promised to do that but instead does take Philoctetes back to Troy, where Philoctetes was one of the men secreted in the Trojan Horse.

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