Achilles' heel


Achilles' heel

:"This article deals with the phrase. For other uses, see Achilles Heel."

An Achilles’ heel is a fatal weakness in spite of overall strength, actually or potentially leading to downfall. While the mythological origin refers to a physical vulnerability, metaphorical references to other attributes or qualities that can lead to their downfall are common.

Origin

The death of Achilles was not mentioned in Homer's Iliad, but appeared in later Greek and Roman poetry and drama concerning events after the Iliad, later in the Trojan War. Here and in the myths surrounding the war, Achilles died from a heel wound as the result of an arrow - possibly poisoned - by Paris.

According to a myth arising later, his mother, Thetis, had dipped the infant Achilles in the river Styx, holding onto him by his heel, and he became invulnerable where the waters touched him -- that is, everywhere but the areas covered by her thumb and forefinger -- implying that "only" a heel wound could have been his downfall. Thetis was scared and fled out of fear. This possibly coincides with the story that Thetis left Achilles at a very young age.

The use of “Achilles’ heel” as an expression used for “area of weakness, vulnerable spot” dates only to 1855 (Merriam-Webster). It derived from the Greek "Achilleios pterna" (Greek: Αχίλλειος πτέρνα) literally meaning Achilles’ heel.

Anatomy

The large and prominent tendon of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf is called the tendo achilleus or Achilles tendon. It is often believed in popular culture that the hero was therefore killed by being shot through this structure. However, as tendons are notably avascular, such an injury is unlikely to be fatal.

The anatomical basis of Achilles death is more likely to have been injury to his posterior tibial artery below the medial malleolus. It is noted that this area would have been included in Thetis’ grip and therefore would have been vulnerable.

ee also

*Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied
*Duryodhana, an Indian tale of a small area of vulnerability (from Mahabharatha)
*Balder, an Æsir deity in Norse mythology
*Kryptonite
*Esfandiyar


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Achilles' heel — {n. phr.}, {literary} A physical or psychological weakness named after the Greek hero Achilles who was invulnerable except for a spot on his heel. * /John s Achilles heel is his lack of talent with numbers and math./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • Achilles' heel — {n. phr.}, {literary} A physical or psychological weakness named after the Greek hero Achilles who was invulnerable except for a spot on his heel. * /John s Achilles heel is his lack of talent with numbers and math./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • Achilles Heel — may refer to:* Achilles heel, a metaphor for a fatal weakness in spite of overall strength * Achilles Heel (band), a band from New York state * Achilles Heel (album), an album by Pedro the Lion * Achilles tendon …   Wikipedia

  • achilles' heel — A person s weak spot is their Achilles heel …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • Achilles heel — ► NOUN ▪ a weakness or vulnerable point. ORIGIN from the mythological Greek hero Achilles, whose mother plunged him into the River Styx when he was a baby, thus making his body invulnerable except for the heel by which she held him …   English terms dictionary

  • Achilles' heel — Achilles heel, Achilles tendon Use an apostrophe in both expressions for consistency, even though the connection with Achilles is remote in the second …   Modern English usage

  • Achilles' heel — n. (one s) vulnerable or susceptible spot * * * …   Universalium

  • Achilles’ heel — [n] vulnerability chink in the armor*, deficiency, frailty, handicap, soft underbelly*, susceptibility, weakness; concepts 101,230,411,580 …   New thesaurus

  • Achilles' heel — n. (one s) vulnerable or susceptible spot …   English World dictionary

  • Achilles' heel — n. a person s weak or vulnerable point. Etymology: L Achilles f. Gk Akhilleus, a hero in the Iliad, invulnerable except in the heel * * * noun a seemingly small but actual mortal weakness • Hypernyms: ↑weak part, ↑weak spot, ↑soft spot * * * n… …   Useful english dictionary