Book 24 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 828

Achilleus is so overwhelmed with grief for his friend that he cannot sleep. Each night he rises and ties Hektor’s body to his chariot, driving his horses around Patroklos’ tomb three times. Still, the gods protect the corpse, and it does not degenerate.

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The gods begin to argue over the body of Hektor, some wanting to steal it away from Achilleus for proper burial, and some having no pity for the Trojan. Finally, Zeus tells Hera that Hektor, too, was dear to the gods. He sends Thetis to Achilleus to tell him that Zeus is enraged at his behavior and that he must return Hektor’s body to Priam.

Another messenger is sent to Priam, urging him to take great ransom to Achilleus in exchange for Hektor’s body. Against his wife’s advice, Priam gathers gifts of great value and makes his way into the Achaian camp with Hermes as his protector. When he reaches Achilleus, Priam makes an impassioned plea for his son’s body, reminding Achilleus of his own father. Both men are moved to tears, and Achilleus agrees to give up the body. Achilleus orders his serving-women to wash and anoint Hektor’s body and wrap it in a beautiful cloak. A meal is prepared and a bed is laid down for Priam. Achilleus agrees to a request for a 12-day reprieve from the fighting in order to give Hektor a proper burial. Then all of the Achaians sleep, and Hermes spirits Priam out of the camp unseen.

The Trojans come out of the city to meet Priam, weeping uncontrollably. Hektor’s body is brought into the city and dirges are sung for him. Hektor’s wife and mother, as well as Helen, all pour out their grief, lamenting their loss. The Trojans then spend nine days gathering wood, and on the tenth day they set Hektor’s body on the pyre and burn it. The next day the fire is extinguished with wine and the bones are gathered and buried. A mound is built up over the grave and a vast feast is given in the house of Priam.

Discussion and Analysis
Achilleus’ harsh treatment of the body of Hektor is made more horrible because it follows the description of the elaborate care taken with Patroklos. Achilleus has had his revenge and he should give up his anger against Hektor. Instead his actions are extreme and demonstrate his stubborness. He handles his revenge exactly the way he handled his anger with Agamemnon. In his fury, he has dishonored the earth, and has invoked the anger of the gods. Achilleus has obviously learned nothing from his experience, despite the tragic consequences.

The moral insight finally comes when Achilleus meets with Priam. In speaking with the old man, Achilleus is reminded of the depth of his love for his own father, and the fact that he will not live to see him again. Both men weep for what they have lost. For Achilleus, these things include his father and his dear friend Patroklos, his home, and his future. For Priam they include Hektor, his other sons killed in battle, and most likely the security of his city and home life. In this scene, Achilleus becomes fully human as he connects emotionally with Priam and finally shows some pity and decency. This scene is the climax of the epic. In agreeing to return Hektor’s body to his father, Achilleus finally puts aside his anger and pride.

The impact of Priam on Achilleus is striking. Part of the effect is certainly the shock of seeing the Trojan king at the door. Priam’s sudden appearance breaks the thought patterns of Achilleus, shattering any prejudice, fear, or suspicion. The two enemies represent two worlds coming together. There is no longer any distinction between friend and foe, and there is no talk of right or wrong. When these men weep they weep not just for Hektor and for Patroklos, but for the tragedy of all mankind. When they quit their weeping to feast, they acknowledge that life must continue, though it exists simultaneously with sorrow. This recognition of mortality is a central theme of the Iliad that culminates in these final pages.

Homer brings the Iliad to a close with the burial of Hektor. The ending seems almost too abrupt. Knowing that Achilleus is destined to die and Troy to fall to the Achaians, the reader wants to know how it happens. Homer leaves him guessing. The effect of the ending the way it stands is a final note of forgiveness and dignity rather than tragedy and bloodshed. Had Homer ended with the fall of Troy, or with the death of Achilleus, the feeling would have been of despair and hopelessness. Instead there is a sense of hope. Achilleus has come to moral redemption, and a wrong done has been righted. the Iliad is, fundamentally, the story of Achilleus, and ends appropriately with his moral transformation.

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Book 23 Summary and Analysis