Achilles’ death: Anatomical considerations regarding the most famous trauma of the Trojan War

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In Greek mythology, Achilles was a hero of the Trojan War, the central character and greatest warrior of Homer’s Iliad. As Achilles died because of a small wound on his heel, the term “Achilles’ heel” has come to mean a person’s principal weakness. But is the human heel a really vulnerable part of our body? Could a non-poisonous arrow have caused Achilles’ death? Should an arrow be necessarily poisonous in order to cause a lethal heel would? The purpose of this effort is to explain, from an anatomic point of view, how Achilles heel wounding could have led to his death. The Achilles tendon is the strongest, largest and thickest tendon in the human body and plays an important role in the biomechanics of the lower extremity. The blood supply of the tendon is from the peroneal and posterior tibial arteries. It is quite likely that the arrow which killed Achilles was poisoned. This supposition could be of course enough to cause his death. In case the arrow was not poisoned a rupture of the posterior tibial artery by the arrow could have caused a bleeding, but it seems unlikely for such a bleeding to be lethal. Moreover, a combination of these two theories could have also taken place, i.e. a poisoned arrow traumatizing the posterior tibial artery and hence causing rapid diffusion of the poison as well as bleeding. Furthermore, infectious and/or immunologic bases regarding Achilles’ death could be considered. In our opinion, a poisoned arrow was probably the crucial factor leading to the famous inglorious death of this famous glorious Homeric hero.

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