Book 19 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 645

Thetis brings the new armor to Achilles and finds him still weeping over the body of Patroclus. Achilles takes his new armor and gathers the Achaians together. He announces that he is putting aside his anger toward Agamemnon and that he will now return to the battle. This news is...

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Thetis brings the new armor to Achilles and finds him still weeping over the body of Patroclus. Achilles takes his new armor and gathers the Achaians together. He announces that he is putting aside his anger toward Agamemnon and that he will now return to the battle. This news is greeted with joy by the Achaians. Agamemnon then answers Achilles, acknowledging the folly of their quarrel and again offering the great gifts he had promised.

Achilles is eager to do battle and urges the Achaians to ready themselves without delay. Odysseus points out that the men have not eaten and that they will need strength for the battle. He suggests that first they rest and feast and that Agamemnon bring the gifts for Achilles for all to see. Achilles relents but swears that he will neither eat nor drink until he has avenged the death of Patroclus. The gifts are brought out to Achilles, and a great oath is sworn before Zeus that Agamemnon did not lie with Briseis.

Achilles puts on his new armor and mounts his chariot, calling out to his horses to bring him home safely, unlike Patroclus. The horse Xanthos speaks back to him, assuring him that he will return from this day’s battle unharmed. He goes on, however, to predict the fated death of Achilles. This angers Achilles, as he well knows his death is near. He is determined nonetheless to drive back the Trojans, and with a loud shout he sets off for battle.

Analysis

Achilles finally reconciles with Agamemnon. However, the decision does not stem from any moral revelation of his foolish pride. Rather, he is moved by the motive of revenge for Patroclus. His speech about putting aside his quarrel with Agamemnon seems only a formality that will allow him to join in the battle. He shows how little he is interested in the new peace with Agamemnon by brushing off the leader’s attempts to bring him gifts. Achilles again shows he has no interest in material possessions. Clearly his mind is focused only on finding Hector and making him pay for his actions.

Achilles takes the further step of refusing to eat or drink until Hector has been killed. This move serves to isolate him from the larger forces. It is clear that avenging Patroclus’s death will be his mission and not an Achaian group effort. Achilles chooses not to join in the camaraderie of the feasting. This decision is due to his enormous sense of grief and the unyielding concentration he has on his mission. However, it seems to slight Agamemnon’s offers of hospitality. By refusing nourishment, Achilles is also showing that nothing, not even life itself, matters to him as much as his dear friend. Eating and drinking are fundamental human needs. In refusing them, he becomes superhuman, accepting strength from Athena.

In a bizarre attempt to “pass the buck,” Achilles blames his horses for not bringing Patroclus back alive. Achilles is desperately trying to escape his own guilty feelings for the death of his friend. In an equally bizarre exchange, one of the horses answers him. The horse tells Achilles that the death was the result of Apollo’s actions and the hand of fate. There is a very real tension here between human decisions and their inevitable consequences, and the role played by fate. Hector continually acts without concern for consequences, sure of the knowledge that fate will run its course regardless of his decisions. Achilles, however, struggles with the guilt of having made a decision that had tragic results. There would be no room for guilt if all were dependent on fate. Achilles sees room for bending fate and is actually given a choice that will save him from his fated death for a time. In his grief, however, he has no desire to prolong his life.

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