Nymphs are the lower level divinities that personify everyday forces of nature (Herzberg 101). Silver-footed Thetis, a sea nymph, is regarded as being among the fairest of the goddesses (Herzberg 186). Many of the Olympians had sought her hand until a prophecy about her future child was revealed. This prophecy declared that Thetis would bear forth a son, who was to be much greater than his father (Herzberg 187). Since the gods want to retain their superiority over any children they may sire, none of them would take the final step with Thetis. In an attempt to diffuse this problem, Zeus decided to arrange a marriage between Thetis and a human (Herzberg 187). This seemed the perfect solution, since humans actually desire for their children to be greater than themselves.
Zeus chooses Pealus, king of Phthia, to wed the reluctant Thetis. At their wedding banquet, the goddess of discord, Eris, who had not been invited to the festivities, tossed a gold apple into the hall with the words, “FOR THE FAIREST” inscribed upon it (Hamilton 256). The three most powerful goddesses in attendance each claimed the prize for themselves. This eventually led to the Judgment of Paris, which then resulted in the outbreak of the Trojan War (Hamilton 257).
The marriage of Pealus and Thetis yielded a son, that powerful hero, Achilles. It is said that Thetis sought to make her son immortal by baptizing him in the River Styx (Herzberg 190). It is thought that her plan failed because she held onto the child’s heel and the waters did not contact his flesh at that point (Herzberg 190).
Near the last year of the battle for Troy, the Greek aristocracy offended Achilles (107-111). He then asked his mother to persuade Zeus to bring battle losses and destruction upon the Greeks as long as Achilles refrained from fighting (114). He avoided the field until after his dear friend, Patroclus, was slain by Hector (160).
Consumed by anguish, Achilles mourned for his friend (162), and asked his mother to help him replace the armor taken by Hector (163). Knowing that Achilles must soon die, Thetis approached Hephaestus, blacksmith for the gods, and gained a fantastic shield and accessories for her son to use in the last days of his heroic career (172-176).
Herzberg, Max. Myths and their Meaning. Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Boston. 1984.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Little, Brown and Company. Boston. 1942.