Who Actually Killed Achilles? The Answer Is Complex

Trojan War hero Achilles was killed by a poisoned arrow in the back of the heel, but who was really responsible for the deadly deed?

Feb 16, 2022By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

achilles black amphora and sculpture


Poor Achilles, the famous heroic character from Greek myth, had an unfortunate death. We might all know he was almost – but not quite – invincible. A hero of Herculean strength and immense power, his only weak spot was his “Achilles heel”, a tiny area at the back of the ankle, and sadly his killer knew right where to strike. But who was the ruthless killer who ended his life? One man, named Paris, aimed the fatal arrow, but he wasn’t the only one involved in the hero’s downfall. Let’s look at his story to find out more.


Achilles Was Killed by the Trojan Prince Paris

trojan prince paris antoni brodowski
Antoni Brodowski (1784-1832), Paris In The Phrygian Cap, image courtesy of Greek Myths and Legends


So, the simple answer to the question “Who killed Achilles?” is: the Trojan Prince Paris. It was Paris who fired a poisoned arrow straight into the tendon on the back of his rival’s heel, thus ending his life. Why did Paris want to kill him? This was the apex of the Trojan War, a bloody and ruthless battle between the Greeks and the Trojans, and Achilles and Paris were on opposing sides. Achilles was one of the Greek army’s strongest leaders, and Paris was a Trojan Prince, so we can see that they were already bitter rivals. But there’s more to the story…


Paris Was the Brother of Trojan Prince Hector 

Achilles hector combat
Achilles and Hector in combat, ancient Greek Urn, image courtesy of the British Museum


Paris and Achilles weren’t just rivals on the battlefield; there was bad blood brewing between them for personal reasons. Trojan Prince Hector – Paris’ brother – killed Achilles’ closest friend Patroclus. Achilles enacted his revenge on Hector, first by brutally murdering him, and then by ruthlessly dragging Hector’s body around Patroclus’ grave three times. Hector’s brother Paris was understandably incensed, and set about hunting down Achilles to kill him. Paris did not know about his rival’s weak heel, so it might seem miraculous that the arrow he fired made its way exactly into his most vulnerable area. However…


The Greek God Apollo Helped Paris Kill Achilles

Apollo statue vatican museum rome
Belvedere Apollo, 2nd Century CE, after Leochares, Vatican Museum, Rome

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The Greek god Apollo was the one who made sure Paris’ arrow hit right where it hurt. We might even say it was Apollo who actually killed our war hero. Apollo was, among other roles, the God of archery so he knew how to hit a target, plus he was one of only a few that knew about Achilles’ only weakness.


Amphora illustrating Achilles and Ajax playing with Pessi, 530BCE, image courtesy of the British Museum


So why did he want him dead? It’s kind of a long story, but basically Apollo was on the Trojan’s side of the war after falling out with the Greek King Agamemnon. Achilles was a killing machine and for the Trojans to win the war, he had to be stopped (but the Greeks did still manage to win the Trojan War, with a ‘Trojan Horse’ full of hidden Greek warriors).


Aphrodite Masterminded Achilles’ Death

aphrodite roman marble head
Roman marble head of Aphrodite, 1st century CE, image courtesy of Christie’s


The Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, played a surprising role in Achilles’ downfall. Some might even say she masterminded his death to try and help the Trojans win the war. Aphrodite conjured up a plan to make Achilles look bad, really bad. She ordered her little helper Eros to make Achilles fall in love with Troilus, another prince of Troy, knowing it would cause ripples of disaster. After a particularly sick game of kiss chase, Achilles brutally murdered Troilus, spilling his blood on the altar of Apollo, thus enraging all the gods.


rubens painting death of achilles
Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Achilles, 1630-35, image courtesy of Boijmans Museum, Rotterdam


Even Zeus had had enough of Achilles by this point. So, he and Apollo got together and came up with their own plan. They would let Achilles kill the Trojan Prince Hector to preserve the integrity of his name, knowing this would rile Prince Paris. This fuller picture shows that although it looked like Paris was the killer, he was merely a pawn in a much larger game, conjured up by Aphrodite, and made real by Zeus and Apollo. Little did Paris know that after killing Achilles, Helen would fall out of love with him, and go on to help the Greeks win the war, but that’s a whole other story.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.