The Poem

“Patrocleia” is a free adaptation of book 16 of Homer’s epic poem about the siege of Troy (c. ninth century b.c.e., first transcribed in the sixth century b.c.e. by the Greeks after the Trojan prince, Paris, seduced Helen, the wife of Menelaus, one of the Greek chieftains, and fled with her to Troy (the fortress kingdom of his father, King Priam).

The Greeks and their allies have had limited success in attacking Troy; the war has gone on for more than nine years, and their efforts have not been helped by the fact that their finest warrior, Achilles, has quarrelled with Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, the leader of the expedition, and now refuses to fight. In addition, difficulties for both sides lie in the intrusion of several gods of varying powers and eccentric inclinations. Achilles (whose mother is a deity) has asked the gods to deter the Greeks so long as he is at odds with Agamemnon. His absence has led to the Trojans being more successful in battle: The Greeks are backed up to the shore, where they are hard pressed to protect their ships.

Patroclus, Achilles’ closest friend (Logue uses his name as a basis for the title of this section of the poem), chides Achilles for his stubborn inaction and suggests that if Achilles will not fight, he should at least allow his troops, the Myrmidons, to go into battle. Patroclus offers to lead them; to ensure their success, he...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Forms and Devices

Perhaps the best way to consider this work is to remember that it is only one part of an adaptation of a major poem and is best read with an accurate translation of Homer’s original Iliad at hand. Logue has no ambition simply to translate the poem, but to filter parts of it through his twentieth century artistic sensibility. He makes use of motifs common to all epics, but with the difference that metaphor, narrative, language in general, and, perhaps most significantly, the facts of the original, are artistically, morally, and psychologically influenced by his own time and place.

The poem is laconic, the tone is cool, the voice of the third-party narrator distanced and uncommitted. The free verse is sometimes hardly verse at all, but informal, conversational, often little more than a kind of shorthand aside. The romance and the excitement of triumphant male endeavor, however deadly and cruel it may be, is celebrated in the Homeric work. The same events happen in Logue’s poem, but the victories are sour, and poetic expansiveness and rhetorical flourish are avoided. The epic similes, so wide-ranging and poetically extravagant in the original, are rarer and shorter. Patroclus attacks a terrified warrior, cowering in his chariot: “And gracefully as men in oilskins cast/ Fake insects over trout, he speared the bog,/ And with his hip his pivot, prised Thestor up and out/ As easily as later men detach/ A sardine from an opened tin.”

Logue does not set the action in the present, but he often uses language that would not—could not—have been used in the original. “Cut to the Fleet,” for example, comes from instruction in a film script. The poem is closer to the modern short story than to the epic in structure, tone, and its ambiguous ending.