Book 18 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798

Antilochos brings the news of Patroclus’s death to Achilles, who is distraught with grief. He pours dust and ashes over his head and sprawls on the ground tearing at his hair. As everyone in the hut weeps for Patroclus, Achilles utters a terrible cry of mourning. Thetis hears his cry...

(The entire section contains 798 words.)

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Antilochos brings the news of Patroclus’s death to Achilles, who is distraught with grief. He pours dust and ashes over his head and sprawls on the ground tearing at his hair. As everyone in the hut weeps for Patroclus, Achilles utters a terrible cry of mourning. Thetis hears his cry and goes to comfort him. Achilles tells his mother that Hector must pay with his life for the death of Patroclus. His mother tells him that his own death is fated to follow directly after Hector’s, but Achilles will not be dissuaded. However, Achilles no longer has his armor and cannot go into battle unarmed. Thetis agrees to have a new set of armor made by Hephaestus in Olympus and instructs Achilles to do nothing until she returns in the morning.

Back on the battlefield, the Trojans are pushing the Achaians back to their ships, and they catch up to the body of Patroclus. Again, the two armies fight fiercely over the body. Hera sends Iris down from Olympus to rouse Achilles to defend Patroclus. She instructs him to go out to the ditch and show himself to the Trojans to hold off their fighting. Athena wraps Achilles in the aegis, and he is surrounded by a blazing light. As he stands at the ditch, he utters three fierce shouts that carry loud and clear to the Trojans, striking them with terror. As the Trojans are thrown into confusion, the Achaians are able to drag Patroclus out of the fighting.

As evening falls and the fighting ceases, the Trojans hold a strategy council. Poulydamas again warns Hector to retreat, fearing the wrath of Achilles. Better to be within the city walls where it will be easier to defend the city. Yet again, Hector rejects his advice. The Trojans approve Hector’s plan to keep fighting.

The Achaians spend the night mourning Patroclus. Achilles swears that Patroclus will not be buried until the armor and head of Hector have been captured and the throats of twelve Trojan children have been cut in revenge. The body is washed and anointed and laid on a bier.

Thetis reaches Olympus and convinces the god Hephaestus to craft beautiful armor for her son. He produces a shield depicting many beautiful scenes of both war and peace, a corselet, a heavy helmet, and greaves of tin. When the armor is finished, Thetis carries it to her son.

Analysis

The full implication of Achilles’s plan to revenge the death of Patroclus is spelled out by Thetis. If he chooses to kill Hector, it is fated that his death will soon follow. Achilles is thus given a choice. If he chooses not to kill Hector, he may live to return to his home. If he chooses to make Hector pay for Patroclus’s death with his own, he will not leave the battlefields of Troy alive. Achilles’s love for Patroclus, and his sense of responsibility for his death, are so great that he cannot walk away without revenge. In killing Hector, Achilles also hopes to break the strength of the Trojans by taking out their leader and to reduce his own feelings of guilt.

Achilles’s reactions to the news of Patroclus’s death are an interesting picture of the customs of the culture. He tears out clumps of his hair and covers his head with dust, writhing on the ground and moaning loudly. Achilles is not the only one moaning. All of the women in the household, as well as many others, join in the wailing. Each of these actions serves as an outlet for the enormous emotional response to the death of a close friend. Many men have died on the battlefield before Patroclus, but none has stirred such a reaction among the survivors. This is due partly to Patroclus’s status as a great warrior, but the excessive grief stems mostly from the reaction of Achilles. Achilles is at the center of all the mourning and funeral rituals. Again, he is driven by his great love for Patroclus, but also by his guilt.

Fearing the extreme reaction of Achilles to the death of Patroclus, Poulydamas again advises Hector to fall back. As Poulydamas speaks with the voice of reason. Hector, however, refuses to listen to reason. All along he has shown a strong belief in fate. If it is fated for him or any other Trojan to die, they will die. Armed with this tenet, as well as with his deep sense of responsibility, he charges ahead.

The transfiguration of Achilles is another example of the fire imagery prevalent in the epic. Flames of fire appear to shoot from the warrior’s head, symbolizing the destruction and burning of a great city. The image foreshadows the fall of Troy.

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