The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

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Chapters 16–18 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 16

Achilles and Patroclus arrive back in Phthia, where a large crowd greets them. Peleus and Achilles are reunited. Unaware of the prophecy, Peleus announces proudly that his son will bring his army victory in Troy and return in triumph. The praise from his father and the crowd changes how Achilles behaves. Achilles trains his soldiers, who are known as the Myrmidons. Realizing that Achilles no longer belongs to him alone, Patroclus starts to avoid him, haunted by visions of his death. Achilles reveals that he does not intend to tell his father about the prophecy and that he asked Thetis to protect Patroclus after Achilles’s death, which she refused to do. With no intention of outliving Achilles, Patroclus is unconcerned by the refusal.

Six weeks pass as the Phthians organize and equip the army Achilles will lead. The weapons and armor sent with Achilles are lavish but also include a wooden spear lovingly handmade by Chiron. The soldiers promise that they will come home with gold and glory. Knowing he will never see his father again, Achilles hugs him tightly as they say farewell. The Phthian ships depart.

Chapter 17

Before sailing to Troy, the whole army is to assemble at Aulis under Agamemnon. When Achilles lands, the Myrmidons raise a chant of his name, exciting the crowd on the beach. When they formally announce his arrival, Thetis makes him appear more godlike, intensifying his legend for the assembled Greeks.

Achilles and Patroclus go to greet Agamemnon, who is with his brother Menelaus, Odysseus, Diomedes, the clever old king Nestor, and other princes and kings of the Greeks. The social expectation is that Achilles will kneel and swear oaths to obey Agamemnon, but Achilles simply stands there, tall and proud. When he announces that he is a demigod and will bring them victory in Troy, Odysseus steps in and says he has brought Achilles to swear allegiance to Agamemnon. Yet Achilles refuses, saying that he has come freely to offer assistance. Agamemnon subtly criticizes Achilles by saying it is a shame he has arrived so late, then departs with his entourage of kings.

The Phthians pitch their camp. As Achilles walks around the encampment, the common people among the Greek armies show great interest in him and his activities. In whispers, they evaluate him, deciding that Achilles can live up to the rumors and lead the Greeks to victory.

Chapter 18

Waking in the night with a stifled feeling, Patroclus realizes that there is no wind. Without it, the army cannot sail to Troy. The problem goes on for days, as the men of the armies grow increasingly hot, frustrated, and angry. Achilles goes to speak to his mother, who tells him that the lack of wind is the work of the gods, a message Achilles passes on to Agamemnon.

After speaking with Calchas, a priest, Agamemnon decides that a huge sacrifice is necessary to soothe the anger of the goddess Artemis, whom he believes to be responsible. He announces that he will bring his daughter Iphigenia, a young priestess of Artemis, to Aulis so that she can preside over the sacrifice to Artemis. Remembering that weddings are also pleasing to the gods, Agamemnon offers Iphigenia in marriage to Achilles. Achilles agrees, in spite of his prior marriage to Deidameia, though he first looks to Patroclus for approval.

After Iphigenia arrives, the people gather for the marriage. Instead of a wedding, however, they witness a human sacrifice. Diomedes seizes Iphigenia and drags her to the altar. Agamemnon cuts her throat. The people are horrified, but just as they...

(This entire section contains 944 words.)

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are about to react, the wind returns. Believing himself responsible for Iphigenia’s death, Achilles is appalled and grieves for her. A furious Patroclus goes to talk to Odysseus, condemning him for his role in the conspiracy to kill Iphigenia. When he learns from Patroclus how Achilles has responded to the murder, Odysseus tells Patroclus that he needs to help Achilles stop being so softhearted. Achilles, he argues, is only a weapon to be used, an unstoppable killer crafted by the gods for that purpose.


In these chapters, Achilles comes into his own as a legendary hero. As Patroclus reflects, the moment when the crowds gather to cheer for Achilles on the beach in Phthia is the moment when their “lives changed.” From that point on, Achilles is no longer inseparable from his legend. The time when he and Patroclus enjoyed each other in peace is gone forever.

By contrast, the section also shows how young, naive, and innocent the sixteen-year-old Achilles still is. He does not understand the political risk he takes in giving offense to Agamemnon by not kneeling and swearing oaths to him. Reveling in the admiration of the people, he fails to associate the legend he is becoming with the inevitable death it must cause. Most notably, Achilles has never seen a human being die before the sacrifice of Iphigenia: “It was the first death he had ever witnessed.” Yet Achilles is going to Troy not only to witness death, but to inflict it on many people and ultimately experience it himself.

The brutality of both the gods and the Greek leaders comes to the fore in these chapters. What is already known to the reader establishes the foundation for this portrayal: Odysseus is not above trickery or coercion, and Thetis is calculating, always coldly furious. Here, however, the cold-blooded public murder of Iphigenia by the Greek leaders, as well as the gods’ immediate response of satisfaction with the sacrifice, shows that both gods and mortal kings have no scruples about being vicious and violent in the service of their goals.


Chapters 13–15 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 19–21 Summary and Analysis