Books 16 and 17 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 946

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Automedon: Achaian warrior who attempts to bring Achilleus’ horses into the battle

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

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

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

When Menelaos sees that Patroklos 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 Hektor moves in and takes the armor from the body. Menelaos returns to the body with Aias, and a bitter fight breaks out over the corpse. Apollo urges on the Trojans, and Athene assists the Achaians as both sides attempt to carry the body from the field. When Achilleus’ horses learn that their charioteer has been killed by Hektor, they begin to weep. Automedon drives them into the battle and Hektor, seeing that they are driven by a poor charioteer, unsuccessfully attempts to take them. Patroklos’ body is eventually won by the Achaians and taken back to the camp for proper burial, though the general fighting rages on.

Discussion and Analysis
Achilleus’ response to the plea of Patroklos is telling. Just as he sent Patroklos in his place to obtain news of the war from Nestor, he is ready to send Patroklos into battle where he should be going. In sending Patroklos to the battle in his armor, he sentences his companion to death. Achilleus 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 Achilleus turns the tables to the Achaian advantage. The decision represents a way out for Achilleus. If he sends Patroklos, 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, Achilleus’ pride takes him a step further. While the Achaians have been far from home now for nine years as they attempt to sack Troy, Achilleus cannot bear for anyone but himself to take the glory. He instructs Patroklos to quit fighting before the city is taken.

Patroklos 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. Patroklos is ultimately killed, and his death is a direct result of Achilleus’ foolish pride. The death of Patroklos is one of a series of tragic events caused by Achilleus that will lead directly to the death of Hektor, which is predicted by Patroklos in his final words, and the death of Achilleus himself.

The vicious fighting for the body of Patroklos 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 Patroklos. Earlier, the epic tells of a break in the fighting to burn the bodies of many dead. Patroklos, however, will receive elaborate individual attention. The fighting over the body may also be heightened by the Achaian’s awareness of the warrior’s tie to Achilleus. 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 Achilleus’ horses to the death of Patroklos 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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