The Iliad

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Thetis Character Analysis

Achilles’ mother, a sea-nymph. Thetis cares greatly for her mortal son, and is determined to fulfill his wishes before he dies. Legend has it that when Achilles was an infant, Thetis dipped in him the river Styx to make him immortal, making him invulnerable except for Achilles’ heel, the place where Thetis held him.

Thetis Quotes in The Iliad

The The Iliad quotes below are all either spoken by Thetis or refer to Thetis. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Iliad published in 1998.
Book 1 Quotes

O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?
All I bore was doom…
Doomed to a short life, you have so little time.

Related Characters: Thetis (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 1.492.494
Explanation and Analysis:

Achilles (still seething from his argument with Agamemnon) approaches his mother, the sea goddess Thetis. Achilles asks Thetis to punish Agamemnon for his disrespect, and Thetis agrees to ask Zeus for help in punishing Agamemnon. And yet Thetis is saddened by Achilles's request. She knows that a prophecy was made long ago: Achilles will either die young and gloriously, or he'll live a long, peaceful, and forgettable life. In short, then, Achilles is asking Thetis to arrange for her own son to fight in battle and die.

Thetis is understandably upset that she's doomed to lose her son. And yet she doesn't dispute Achilles's wishes: she knows that the prophecy is set in stone, and she even seems to believe that Achilles is better off dead and glorious than he is alive and unknown.

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Book 9 Quotes

Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies . . .
true, but the life that’s left me will be long,
the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Thetis
Page Number: 9.497-505
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Achilles lays out the two options before him: he can either fight in the Trojan War and die young, gaining glory and immortality in the process, or he can sail back home and live a long happy life, and be forgotten by history.

Achilles's choice illustrates the differences between honor and happiness. Happiness is personally satisfying, but short-lived: Achilles could enjoy the rest of his life, but his enjoyment wouldn't help anyone else (except perhaps the people back home). On the other hand, honor is selfless and immortal: Achilles would make a great sacrifice by dying on the battlefield, and he would be rewarded for his sacrifice by being remembered forever. Ultimately, the Iliad sees honor as the more important value (although many modern readers of the poem might argue that happiness and peace are better than war and immortality). Also note that the "immortality" Achilles discusses is partly realized by the Iliad itself: thanks to Homer, we're still talking about Achilles thousands of years later.

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Thetis Character Timeline in The Iliad

The timeline below shows where the character Thetis appears in The Iliad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Weeping, Achilles prays to his mother Thetis, a sea goddess, to help him get revenge on Agamemnon. He says that because he... (full context)
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
After twelve days, Zeus returns to Olympus. Thetis goes to see him and kneels before him, asking him to honor her son by... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Although Zeus attempted to make his promise to Thetis in secret, Hera has seen everything. She taunts Zeus for trying to make secret plans,... (full context)
Book 9
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Achilles tells the embassy that his mother Thetis told him of two possible fates: either Achilles can die at Troy and win everlasting... (full context)
Book 18
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Achilles lets loose a “terrible, wrenching cry” that his mother Thetis hears. All of the sea nymphs of the ocean gather with Thetis and fly to... (full context)
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
...that he is now ready to accept his fate by revenging himself on the Trojans. Thetis observes that Achilles no longer has any armor of his own, and tells him that... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
On Olympus, Thetis reaches the home of Hephaestus, which houses magnificent forges. Thetis is welcomed into the house,... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
...forges a helmet and breastplate. When his work his finished, he lays the armor at Thetis’ feet. (full context)
Book 19
The Gods Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
As dawn rises, Thetis arrives at Achilles’ camp with the new armor. Achilles is still in deep mourning, lying... (full context)
Book 24
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...Hera, but also indicates that the gods loved Hector dearly. He sends Iris to call Thetis to Olympus. When she arrives, Zeus instructs her to go to Achilles and to tell... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Thetis flies to Achilles side to comfort him. Achilles is still choked with sorrow. Thetis asks... (full context)