Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1365
Achilles and Patroclus discuss the changes in Patroclus’s body as he has matured, but Patroclus grows embarrassed and blushes at Achilles’s attention. Patroclus narrates how the two are almost sixteen and will soon be expected to take wives. He still does not want to sleep with a woman but instead continues to fantasize about Achilles, sometimes excusing himself to wander into the woods, out of sight, and masturbate there. When Achilles and Patroclus wrestle and play, Patroclus watches the other boy’s body. Achilles’s sixteenth birthday comes. Patroclus gives him fresh figs and a statue of him that he has carved. Achilles is very pleased. A princely purple cape, representing Achilles’s future kingship, is his gift from Peleus.
One evening, when Chiron grows tired, Achilles excuses himself and Patroclus to their beds in the cave. He tells Patroclus that his mother cannot see them while they are with Chiron. Lying next to Patroclus, Achilles leans over and kisses him. The two kiss passionately and then have sex. Afterward, they have a tender conversation and then have sex again. In the morning, the world has changed, and Patroclus is happy. From this point on, they are lovers. Patroclus worries about what other people—Chiron, Peleus, Thetis—would think, but Achilles has no such concerns. He declares that he will be the world’s first happy hero, because of Patroclus, and makes Patroclus swear to it.
A messenger arrives from Peleus, summoning Achilles back to the court. Peleus has received a message from Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, who commands a powerful army. Agamemnon is also the brother of Menelaus, Helen’s husband. Chiron tells Achilles that he needs to consider his answer to a question they have discussed previously: whether he would fight if other men called upon him to do so.
When Achilles and Patroclus arrive at the palace, Thetis and Peleus are both there to greet them. All the people gather in the dining hall to hear the news. Achilles insists that a place be set for Patroclus next to his own, on the same table as Peleus and Thetis. Peleus announces that Paris, song of King Priam of Troy, has abducted Helen from Menelaus’s court. Agamemnon calls on the Greek kings to send their armies to help get her back. Peleus has agreed to send troops but will not lead the army himself; its leader has not yet been decided. Peleus also reveals what Patroclus already knows, that many great Greek leaders who were once suitors to Helen are bound by oath to protect Helen from anyone who may try to take her from her husband. A herald reads the list of sworn defenders aloud. No one but Peleus and Achilles recognizes Patroclus, who is listed by his father’s name as “Menoitiades,” son of Menoitius.
Peleus, Achilles, and Patroclus meet in Peleus’s chambers. They discuss whether Achilles will lead the army, which he does not want to do. When Peleus asks about Patroclus, Achilles argues that Patroclus no longer counts as Menoitiades, since Peleus has adopted him. Patroclus does not want to go, and Peleus says that he will not force him; it is Patroclus’s decision. Men are coming, Peleus tells Achilles, sent by the Greek kings, to try to persuade Achilles to lead the armies. Achilles says that they are not likely to convince him. That night, Achilles promises Patroclus that if Patroclus has to go, Achilles will go too.
When Patroclus wakes up in the morning, Achilles is gone, and Patroclus cannot find him anywhere in the palace. After a long search, he speaks to Phoinix, Peleus’s elderly adviser who helped raise Achilles. Achilles’s mother has taken him, Phoinix says, and no one knows where. Patroclus goes to see Peleus and uses supplication, a religious custom involving kneeling in front of a monarch in a special way, to call upon Peleus to tell him where Achilles is. Giving the name of a small island, Scyros, Peleus instructs Patroclus to obtain money for his passage from Phoinix. After paying a ship captain far more than necessary to get there, Patroclus arrives in Scyros.
He goes to the palace, an unimpressive building, and asks to see the king, Lycomedes. Instead, he is taken to Deidameia, the king’s daughter. Playfully refusing to answer Patroclus’s questions, Deidameia invites him to dinner, suggesting that she may tell him after he sees her and her women dance. During the dance, Patroclus realizes that one of the women is a disguised Achilles, and Achilles sees him as well. Achilles leaps at Patroclus and embraces him.
To Lycomedes’s questions about what is going on, Achilles, still disguised as a woman, replies that Patroclus is “her” husband. Deidameia, however, reveals that Achilles is a man and threatens to tell everyone. Thetis appears and commands her not to do so. Explaining the situation to Lycomedes, Achilles says that his mother hid him there as a woman to prevent him from going to war. He offers to leave, but Deidameia tells her father that Thetis married Achilles to her and that they have slept together. This tie between the two obligates Lycomedes to shelter Achilles. In return, he will have a famous son-in-law, to be revealed in the future. Deidameia tells everyone that she and Achilles have slept together and that she is pregnant.
Patroclus runs out of the room, Achilles pursuing him. To explain his behavior, Achilles tells Patroclus that Thetis told him she would tell him Patroclus’s location if he slept with Deidameia. Patroclus is angry at Achilles for believing this obvious lie, but he also loves Achilles, and being trusting is part of who Achilles is. They reconcile. Returning to the palace, they meet Lycomedes, who insists that Achilles swear Deidameia’s child will have Achilles named as his father, ensuring high status for Lycomedes’s family. Patroclus and Achilles spend a long night of joyful reunion together.
This section introduces the accelerating series of events that sets the main plot of the book in motion, sometimes called the “rising action” in literary analysis. Once Achilles is summoned to fight in Troy, an unstoppable chain reaction begins that leads to the center of the book’s action. Up to this point, the book has primarily focused on setting the scene, developing the characters, creating the world, and foreshadowing future events. In these later chapters, the author’s focus shifts to the plot. Patroclus and Achilles are now fully grown and trained adults, old enough to be called to war. They have developed the adult personalities that will govern their choices in difficult times. The reader is familiar with the ancient Greek world and has gained, from the foreshadowing, some sense of the tone and content of the events to follow.
When thinking about the author’s handling of plot, it is also important to note that many readers of this book will be at least somewhat familiar with the Trojan War, due to previously having studied Homer’s Iliad or absorbing the story through some other source. Such readers will already know what is going to happen to Patroclus and Achilles during the war. What this book does, while other versions of the story do not, is provide Patroclus’s point of view and show how his closeness with Achilles (a key factor in the events of the Iliad) developed. Thus, the part of the book that comes before these chapters is vital to the author’s project.
This section also introduces sex into Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship. Patroclus has long fantasized about Achilles, but actually becoming lovers transforms their connection and brings them even closer. They are so happy that they see nothing beyond themselves: “We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.” This happy obliviousness makes the onslaught of the rising action more poignant. The potential loss of the other would now be even more heartbreaking for each of them, raising the stakes if either or both of them must go to war.
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