Books 16 and 17 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 936

Patroclus brings the grim news that he has heard from Nestor to Achilles, begging him to put aside his pride and fight to save the Achaians. Failing that, he asks to be allowed to borrow Achilles’s armor and take the Myrmidon army into battle. Achilles is not ready to forgive...

(The entire section contains 936 words.)

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Patroclus brings the grim news that he has heard from Nestor to Achilles, begging him to put aside his pride and fight to save the Achaians. Failing that, he asks to be allowed to borrow Achilles’s armor and take the Myrmidon army into battle. Achilles is not ready to forgive Agamemnon but agrees to send Patroclus in his armor. He instructs Patroclus to come back after driving the Trojans from the ships, lest Achilles should lose the glory of sacking Troy himself, or a god should come against Patroclus and bring him down.

Meanwhile, the Trojans have succeeded in torching one of the Achaian ships, as Ajax could no longer defend it. Achilles sees the fire and hurries Patroclus on his way, offering libations to Zeus. When the Trojans see Patroclus and the Myrmidon army approaching, they are terrified. Fully believing that Achilles has given up his anger and is leading the force of fresh warriors, they begin to retreat. Patroclus presses in and kills many Trojans, including Sarpedon, son of Zeus.

After forcing back the Trojans, Patroclus fails to heed Achilles’s instructions and instead presses on in pursuit. As Patroclus and his men are on the brink of taking the city, Apollo steps in and forces him back from the wall. Later, Apollo comes at Patroclus from behind, striking a heavy blow and knocking off his helmet. A Trojan then wounds Patroclus, who attempts to retreat into the Achaian forces. However, when Hector sees him escaping, he rushes in and mortally wounds him with a spear to his stomach. As Hector takes the glory for killing such a great warrior, Patroclus tells him that he has not been killed by mortal hands, but by cruel fate. His last words predict the fast approaching death of Hector at the hand of Achilles.

When Menelaus sees that Patroclus has been killed, he stands over the body to keep the Trojans from taking the armor. However, he cannot hold back the Trojans by himself, and when he retreats Hector moves in and takes the armor from the body. Menelaus returns to the body with Ajax, and a bitter fight breaks out over the corpse. Apollo urges on the Trojans, and Athena assists the Achaians as both sides attempt to carry the body from the field. When Achilles’s horses learn that their charioteer has been killed by Hector, they begin to weep. Automedon drives them into the battle, and Hector, seeing that they are driven by a poor charioteer, unsuccessfully attempts to take them. Patroclus’s body is eventually won by the Achaians and taken back to the camp for proper burial, though the general fighting rages on.

Analysis

Achilles’s response to the plea of Patroclus is telling. Just as he sent Patroclus in his place to obtain news of the war from Nestor, he is ready to send Patroclus into battle where he should be going. In sending Patroclus to the battle in his armor, he sentences his companion to death. Achilles must have known that the Trojans would react strongly to the sight of his armor on the field. Indeed, the mere sight of what they assume to be Achilles turns the tables to the Achaian advantage. The decision represents a way out for Achilles. If he sends Patroclus, he can save his own ship, which is in danger of being torched by the Trojans, and he can help the Achaians, who are his friends. He can accomplish all of this without giving up an inch in his stubborn stance against Agamemnon. As if that were not bad enough, Achilles’s pride takes him a step further. While the Achaians have been far from home now for nine years as they attempt to sack Troy, Achilles cannot bear for anyone but himself to take the glory. He instructs Patroclus to quit fighting before the city is taken.

Patroclus is a strong warrior, and he performs very bravely on the field. However, he is not the match of the man who should have been there. Patroclus is ultimately killed, and his death is a direct result of Achilles’s foolish pride. The death of Patroclus is one of a series of tragic events caused by Achilles that will lead directly to the death of Hector, which is predicted by Patroclus in his final words, and the death of Achilles himself.

The vicious fighting for the body of Patroclus underscores the importance of proper burial and especially the burial of a warrior hero. While many have died on the battlefield, only a few of the very bravest warriors receive the treatment given to Patroclus. Earlier, the epic tells of a break in the fighting to burn the bodies of many dead. Patroclus, however, will receive elaborate individual attention. The fighting over the body may also be heightened by the Achaians’ awareness of the warrior’s tie to Achilles. They must realize that such a death will not be taken lightly by the great hero. The responsibility of man to man here does not end with death. Each man trusts his friends to also provide proper burial for his body and thus usher him safely into the underworld. In order to do this, the body must be retrieved.

The response of Achilles’s horses to the death of Patroclus is a vivid example of personification. Homer imbues the horses with the very human emotions of grief and sadness. Their reaction is similar to the reaction you would expect to see from a close friend. The effect is to powerfully underscore the loss of a great man.

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Book 18 Summary and Analysis