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Achilles was a handsome Greek hero. According to Greek mythology when Achilles was born, his mother held him by his heel and dropped him on the River Styx so he would live forever. His heel was the only part of his body that was not washed with holy water and he finally died after an arrow struck him in the heel. This is also the source of the expression Achilles’ heel which means having a serious weakness. In this story from My Family and other Animals, the narrator names his pet tortoise Achilles. This brave tortoise was a wonderful creature who brought much joy to the author.
The narrator– a young boy who lives in a villa
The Rose–Beetle man– a strange man with all kinds of animals
Roger– the narrator’s dog
Achilles– the tortoise that the narrator buys from the Rose-Beetle man
The Rose-Beetle Man
The narrator once met a weird and fascinating character called the Rose-Beetle man. He used to play a shepherd’s pipe and had a fantastic dress on, with a fairy-tale air about him.
He carried on his back bamboo cages full of pigeons and young chickens and several mysterious sacks. He held a pipe to his mouth with one hand and had numerous rose beetles tied to cotton strings held in his other hand. The beetles would fly around his hat trying to escape.
When he saw the narrator and his pet dog Roger, the Rose-Beetle Man stopped and bowed. He could not speak and expressed that he wanted money. The narrator talked to him, and he replied with a clever pantomime.
Eventually, the Rose-Beetle man swung a small sack off his shoulder and undid it. Half a dozen tortoises tumbled out of it. They had polished shells and little red bows.
The narrator was fascinated by the creatures and fancied one with a shell the size of a teacup. It had bright eyes and an alert walk. He decided to buy it. It did not bother the narrator that he was carrying no money, because he would tell the man to call at the villa for payment. The man would trust him because he was an Englishman, and the islanders loved and respected them.
The narrator bargained with the Rose-Beetle man and finally settled on a price for the tortoise. He told the man to visit the villa for payment. The narrator excitedly went back home to show his new pet to everyone.
The Pet Tortoise
The tortoise was named Achilles and turned out to be an intelligent animal with a sense of humour. He learned his name soon and would always appear when called. He loved eating grapes, which were a favourite with Roger too. Roger would try to lick grape juice off Achilles, to the tortoise’s great annoyance.
Achilles liked wild strawberries the most. He could devour the small strawberries in a gulp. He also loved human company. He would approach anyone who came into the garden and stay by their side. He would even climb people’s bodies if they were lying down on a rug, sunbathing.
One day the garden gate was left open, and Achilles was nowhere to be found. Search parties were sent out. Finally, they found him. He had fallen into an old well and was dead. Leslie’s attempts at artificial respiration, and Margo’s suggestion of forcing strawberries down his throat failed to get any response.
His corpse was buried in the garden under a small strawberry plant. A short funeral address was read by Larry and made the occasion memorable. It was only ruined by Roger who went on wagging his tail throughout the burial service.
Even tiny little creatures such as tortoises can be intelligent companions. Although stereotyped as slow and dull animals, tortoises are very smart, as seen through Achilles in this story. The story tells us how amazing animals are and how much joy they bring to people.