Book 24 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 827

Achilles is so overwhelmed with grief for his friend that he cannot sleep. Each night he rises and ties Hector’s body to his chariot, driving his horses around Patroclus’s 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 Hector, some wanting to steal it away from Achilles for proper burial and some having no pity for the Trojan. Finally, Zeus tells Hera that Hector, too, was dear to the gods. He sends Thetis to Achilles to tell him that Zeus is enraged at his behavior and that he must return Hector’s body to Priam.

Another messenger is sent to Priam, urging him to take great ransom to Achilles in exchange for Hector’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 Achilles, Priam makes an impassioned plea for his son’s body, reminding Achilles of his own father. Both men are moved to tears, and Achilles agrees to give up the body. Achilles orders his serving-women to wash and anoint Hector’s body and wrap it in a beautiful cloak. A meal is prepared and a bed is laid down for Priam. Achilles agrees to a request for a twelve-day reprieve from the fighting in order to give Hector a proper burial. Then all of the Achaians sleep, and Hermes spirits Priam out of the camp unseen.

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The Trojans come out of the city to meet Priam, weeping uncontrollably. Hector’s body is brought into the city, and dirges are sung for him. Hector’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 Hector’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.

Analysis

Achilles’s harsh treatment of the body of Hector is made more horrible because it follows the description of the elaborate care taken with Patroclus. Achilles has had his revenge and he should give up his anger against Hector. Instead his actions are extreme and demonstrate his stubbornness. 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. Achilles has obviously learned nothing from his experience, despite the tragic consequences.

Homework Help

Latest answer posted November 30, 2011, 12:19 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The moral insight finally comes when Achilles meets with Priam. In speaking with the old man, Achilles 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 Achilles, these things include his father and his dear friend Patroclus, his home, and his future. For Priam they include Hector, his other sons killed in battle, and most likely the security of his city and home life. In this scene, Achilles 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 Hector’s body to his father, Achilles finally puts aside his anger and pride.

The impact of Priam on Achilles 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 Achilles, 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 Hector and for Patroclus, 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 Hector. The ending seems almost too abrupt. Knowing that Achilles is destined to die and Troy to fall to the Achaians, readers want to know how it happens. Homer leaves them 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 Achilles, the feeling would have been of despair and hopelessness. Instead there is a sense of hope. Achilles has come to moral redemption, and a wrong done has been righted. The Iliad is, fundamentally, the story of Achilles, and it ends appropriately with his moral transformation.

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Book 23 Summary and Analysis