Did the Greek Warrior Achilles Have Children?

A brief history of Neoptolemus, and how he came to be Achilles' only child

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 an 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.

What finally drove Achilles into battle and his death was the death of Patroclus.

Neoptolemus

After his father died, Neoptolemus, sometimes called Pyrrhus 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 died, shot by a poisoned arrow in the only place in his body not made impervious by his dip in the Styx, the heel. His son Neoptolemus was sent into battle and the Greeks were able to capture Troy.

Neoptolemus lived to marry three times, and one of his wives was Andromache, the widow of Hector, who had been killed by Achilles. The Aeneid reports that Neoptolemus killed Priam and many others in retribution for the death of Achilles.

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) and left ill and alone in a cave far from his home.

After 10 years, Neoptolemus visits him to take him back to Troy, but Philoctetes begs him not to take him back to the battle but to take him home. Neoptolemus falsely promises to do that, but eventually does take him to Troy, where Philoctetes was one of the men secreted in the Trojan Horse.

Sources

Avery HC. 1965. Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus. Hermes 93(3):279-297.