The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

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Chapters 13–15 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 13

With Achilles’s identity still unknown to most of the court, he and Patroclus find hidden places beyond the palace where Achilles can use his strength. The two dine with Lycomedes and Deidameia, but Achilles ignores his official wife almost altogether. Patroclus sees that this hurts her and wants to help, but says nothing.

One morning, Deidameia sends her guards to bring Patroclus to her chamber. Insulting his appearance and slapping him, she expresses her bitterness that Achilles prefers Patroclus to her. Patroclus tries to comfort her. She initiates sexual contact with him, which he does not find appealing at first, but he decides to have sex with her because he does not want to disappoint her. He fakes greater enjoyment in order to make Deidameia happy. Realizing that he was not able to give her what she actually wanted—though not knowing what that was—Patroclus leaves. He is relieved to return to Achilles. Looking back, he reflects that later on, sleeping with her sometimes seemed only a dream, but it was not.

Chapter 14

Deidameia is sent away to “visit her aunt” because her father does not want her pregnancy to be visible before her marriage is revealed. Achilles and Patroclus while away the time before the birth, impatient to leave Scyros and always aware of the war.

A ship arrives at Scyros, its fancy sails showing it is no trader. Awakening from a nap, Patroclus finds a familiar-looking stranger in his room, who declares he is there to recruit Patroclus for the war. He realizes that the man is Odysseus, the Prince of Ithaca, whom Patroclus last saw when he was a child at the oath-making, just before Helen and Menelaus were betrothed. Fortunately, Odysseus does not seem to recognize him.

Odysseus and his fellow recruiter Diomedes request to see the famous court dancers of Scyros, and Lycomedes has no choice but to let this happen, even though Achilles is among them. After the dance, Odysseus presents the dancers and the court with chests of many treasures, resulting in great excitement. Diomedes sends a servant outside the chamber, and shortly afterward, a trumpet is sounded in the pattern that means a dire emergency. The girls scream, but Achilles seizes a sword from the table, prepared to fight. It has been a trap. Odysseus greets Achilles by name and asks to see him in Lycomedes’s chamber of state. Casually, he invites Patroclus along, saying that they have business with him too.

Chapter 15

Odysseus and Diomedes ask Achilles to come to Troy and fight. Diomedes threatens that if he does not, they will reveal that he has been living as a woman, which would be considered a great shame. Taking a different approach, Odysseus speaks of the fame Achilles will gain if he fights at Troy. He tells Achilles that this will be the greatest war of their time, that he will gain immortal glory if he fights and lose it if he does not. Achilles is skeptical, so Odysseus reveals that the gods have shared a prophecy with him: if Achilles does not go to Troy, he will never gain fame and will instead be forgotten by history.

Thetis arrives, furious. She attempts to attack Odysseus, who reveals that he has the protection of Athena. Thetis cannot touch him. Achilles asks his mother if the prophecy is true. Admitting that it is, she adds what Odysseus has not told him, the rest of the prophecy: if he does go to Troy, he will die there.

Achilles tells Patroclus that he could not bear never gaining fame. He decides...

(This entire section contains 1368 words.)

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to go to Troy. When he asks Patroclus to come with him, Patroclus agrees. The next day, Patroclus climbs a sharp peak and calls to Thetis. Appearing, she reveals that Achilles will not die until he has killed Hector, Troy’s greatest warrior. She orders Patroclus to take responsibility for protecting Achilles from his own tendency to trust too far and not to disgrace Achilles. Patroclus tells Achilles that he must not kill Hector. Agreeing, Achilles reflects that he has nothing against Hector.

Before they leave for Troy, Achilles tells Lycomedes that Thetis will wean her grandson, taking him away from the court—a great blow to Lycomedes. On the ship, Odysseus and Diomedes tell stories, which fascinate Achilles. When they camp for the night, Odysseus comments that he has one tent for Patroclus and Achilles, since he has heard that is what they prefer. Feeling shame is not necessary, he tells them, since what they do is common enough. He adds, however, that such conduct is more fitting for boys than men. Patroclus denies that there is anything sexual between him and Achilles. Replying that it is still their reputation, whether true or not, he advises them to leave it behind them if they are concerned about how it looks. Patroclus tries to persuade Achilles that they should hide their relationship, but Achilles refuses.

The next day, Achilles is coldly formal with Odysseus but asks him about the warriors they will fight against. Odysseus lists and describes them. When Achilles asks to hear about Agamemnon, Odysseus explains that Agamemnon’s (and Menelaus’s) ancestor Tantalus drew a curse on their house by trying to trick the gods, offering them his son to eat. Only with Agamemnon and Menelaus, Tantalus’s great-grandsons, has the family luck begun to change. Agamemnon is known as a good and powerful king and has therefore been chosen general over the Greek armies. Though each ruler brings his own army, one must rule over all. Achilles resists this idea, saying that he has come of his own free will and “will take Agamemnon’s counsel, but not his orders.” Understanding him incorrectly, Odysseus reassures him that he will be honored in the army. What Achilles meant was that he was a prince and a free man, not to be commanded by anyone.

Patroclus warns him that the others cannot be trusted, but Achilles is not sure. He changes the subject and distracts Patroclus by praising his body and touching him. Waking up beside Achilles in the night, Patroclus is tormented by the sense of what he will lose when Achilles dies and the fear that his death may not be far away.


In these chapters, the hand of fate reaches out to grasp Achilles—and, therefore, Patroclus. In spite of all his mother’s efforts, Achilles cannot avoid the war. Odysseus and Diomedes use his own nature as a mighty warrior to trick him into revealing himself. Using the prophecy to tempt Achilles’s ego, they persuade him into the war against his own inclinations. Achilles simply “could not bear” the idea of being forgotten.

Achilles’s desire for fame is similar to the “tragic flaw” of Greek tragedy, even though the height of Greek drama came centuries after the Iliad’s composition. His ego makes it impossible for him not to go and fight, even though no one is forcing him. The prophecy is not that he will go to Troy and find great fame, but that if he does not go to Troy, he will be forgotten. Both possibilities are still open. This divine pronouncement is enough to send Achilles to Troy, however: because of his own nature, “miraculous and radiant,” he cannot resist the call of fame or accept the shame of obscurity.

This section also puts in place several elements that will become important later, which a reader familiar with this story would notice. Achilles’s resentment of Agamemnon, the social judgment that Patroclus and Achilles might incur in a military context, and Odysseus’s skill at trickery are all familiar to those who have read The Iliad. Bringing these elements of the story to the fore is also vital for those who have not, for they must be aware of such key factors as the plot unfolds.

In addition, this section makes the author more present to the reader. When Diomedes says that by fighting in Troy, the Greek heroes “will be remembered in legend and song for generations,” this almost unbelievable moment is a wink to the person reading about them thousands of years later.


Chapters 10–12 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 16–18 Summary and Analysis