Achilles in Media

Achilles was a hero from the ancient Greek story The Iliad by Homer. King of Phthia and commander of the Myrmidons he was a hero of the trojan war, and a warrior without equal. However, despite his remarkable strength Achilles is best known by many for his one weakness, that being his heel. Achilles’ body was invincible, save for his heel, and it was this vulnerability that led to his death. Through this story most people would associate Achilles with being a powerful and renowned hero with one fatal flaw.

The first example of discussion is an oil painting by Peter Paul Rubens titled “The Death of Achilles”. In order for one to understand this interpretation they will need some level of previous knowledge. If one is already familiar with the story of Achilles and is able to recognize the classical Greek themes in this painting, they would likely be able to make the connection that the painting is depicting Achilles’ fall, due to the arrow through the heel. Even without an understanding of the context the painting still conveys the tragedy that was Achilles’ death, and from his armor the viewer can assume that the man pictured is a warrior, even if they are not familiar with Achilles.

Trope two is a cartoon that depicts Achilles as having a bullseye painted on his heel. Again, an understanding of the story is needed for the viewer to fully understand the trope, but even without it there are enough clues for one to understand. It’s clear from the depiction that the man is a warrior, and the caption mentions a weakness, so even someone with no knowledge of Achilles would be able to understand the image. In the story Achilles’ weakness was a secret and, in some interpretations, he was only brought down due to the god Apollo guiding the arrow that struck him. Today the connection between Achilles and his heel is very well known, with the tendon in the heel even being known as the “Achilles’ tendon”. The joke being made is that the weakness was in plain sight, because it is so well known today, but in the story it a secret revealed only by the gods. It is a humorous take on the trope.

The last example is a movie poster for the film, “Fury of Achilles”. This piece focuses on a different part of the Achilles trope, which is that Achilles was prone to bouts of strong emotion, in particular, anger and grieving. Much like the other examples this piece again requires an understanding of the Achilles myth to fully understand the trope. Even more so than the previous one, because while the connection between Achilles and his heel is well known, the strong emotions of Achilles are less well known. The poster also depicts Achilles dragging Hector of Troy behind him on his chariot, another trope that is often depicted. The trope of Achilles rage is further exemplified by the use of color in the poster. The striking red in the background combined with Achilles’ strained expression helps with the piece’s portrayal of rage.


Smith, Kevin. “Achilles Cartoons and Comics – Funny Pictures from Cartoonstock.” CartoonStock, 22 February 2004,

Rubens’ Modello for “The Death of Achilles,” ca. 1630–1635, (107.5 cm x 109.2 cm / 42.2 in x 43 in) oil on canvas. London, The Courtauld Gallery.

“Fury of Achilles.”,