Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1256
The Greek soldiers grow impatient of raiding without any apparent effect. Then Troy raises a flag of parley (a brief truce for diplomatic purposes) inviting the Greek leaders to meet with King Priam of Troy. Menelaus and Odysseus go to talk to the Trojans. After speculating on whether the Trojans will let Menelaus see Helen, Achilles and Patroclus discuss whether Helen caused the war on purpose and decide that Agamemnon is going to fight the Trojans even if they return Helen. Odysseus reports back that Priam has told him Helen does not want to return and that the Trojans will defend her at her request. So, the war will happen, and every man must fight. Panicking, Patroclus realizes that this includes him.
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In the morning, Achilles helps Patroclus put on his armor, and the Phthian troops report to the battlefield. The traditional tactic of Greek military attacks is to charge at the energy and meet them in the middle, scattering their ranks. In the process, the Greek ranks become scrambled as well, and Patroclus loses sight of Achilles. He is unable to see or focus, everything seeming to be moving around him except for Achilles when he reappears. Not fighting yet never threatened, Patroclus takes much of the day to realize that Achilles has been defending him. Watching Achilles, he perceives his beauty rather than seeing the ugly deaths he is causing.
Weeks pass without any change in the military situation, for the armies are evenly matched. Achilles glories in battle, while Patroclus begins to stay behind unless Achilles asks him to come. Observing a square behind Achilles where no soldiers come, Patroclus realizes that Thetis is on the battlefield, standing and watching her son fight. As time passes, he comes to understand the battle better, observing how the individual Greek and Trojan leaders fight. He watches Hector, but never from very close, as Achilles continues to turn away from him, determined not to fight Hector so that Achilles will not die. Agamemnon often asks him why he does not fight Hector, but Achilles repeats that Hector has done nothing to offend him.
One day, Achilles leaves the tent early to go speak with his mother. Briseis and Patroclus talk, and Patroclus tells her that Achilles is the son of a goddess. The girl is not surprised. Upon his return, Achilles reveals that his mother told him she is worried about him because the gods are quarreling and taking sides in the war. Someone else, she fears, may kill Hector before Achilles does. Though he still has no intention of killing Hector, Achilles tells Patroclus that he has a vision, a daydream, of himself killing Hector and feeling relief, not fear that he will die.
While Achilles is away in battle during the days, Patroclus begins to stroll the camp, looking for something to do. One of the men points him to the medical tent, where he asks to help. The head medic instructs him to treat a man with a serious arrow wound. By creating an innovative treatment, Patroclus earns a reputation and starts to work there often.
Two years pass, and the fear of Achilles’s death becomes less immediate for Patroclus. As they grow used to living together at Troy, their camp becomes a family of sorts. Achilles and Patroclus serve as hosts, entertaining the other Phthians and the women they have gathered. Patroclus thinks of Briseis, in particular, as someone who will be with them for life.
One night, Achilles asks Briseis about Hector. His wife, she tells him, is Andromache, daughter of Eetion, a local king. After Briseis leaves, Achilles reveals to Patroclus that he killed Eetion and all but one of Andromache’s brothers. So, while he may not have cause to fight Hector, Hector now has cause to fight him.
Four years after the invasion, a soldier in Ajax’s camp begins to complain that the Greeks are getting nowhere. Men start to gather in the agora, the central social space of the camp, and air their grievances. Agamemnon has them punished repeatedly until one day when hundreds refuse to fight and gather in the agora to resist Agamemnon. An angry Agamemnon hits a man who has spit at him with his scepter, breaking the man’s skull. When the crowd seems about to attack, Achilles steps in and persuades them that they should fight the Trojans instead.
In order to keep the men too busy to rebel, Agamemnon decides that they will build a huge wall around their camp for defensive purposes. This strategy is effective, uniting the men in a common cause. It also helps them to think of Troy as home.
Six or seven years into the war—Patroclus is not sure—he knows many of the men well and greets them as they walk through the camp. Achilles remains ignorant of many of their names and stories. Over the course of time, the people they hosted around the fire have formed their own families and camps. Eventually, only Briseis is left in their camp.
Thetis comes to visit Achilles, telling him that she has been warned Apollo is angry and will harm the Greeks. She instructs Achilles to make a huge sacrifice, a hundred cows. Reluctantly, she adds that there is a new prophecy, that the best of the Myrmidons—which does not refer to Achilles—will die within two years. Achilles and Patroclus discuss this information but cannot make sense of it. As Thetis suggested, Achilles performs the sacrifice to Apollo.
Briseis, to Patroclus’s surprise, kisses him one day. He tells her gently that he does not wish to take a wife. She asks him whether he would want children, which he does not initially realize is her way of saying that she wants to have a child with him. That night, he asks Achilles whether Achilles wants a child. Achilles reminds him that he already has one, with Deidameia: the boy Neoptolemus, nicknamed Pyrrhus, whom Thetis is raising. After a silence, Patroclus asks Achilles how he feels about Briseis. Achilles realizes that Briseis wants to have a child with Patroclus. Though hurt at the idea, Achilles tells Patroclus that it would be alright if he wanted to. Patroclus does not want to.
These chapters efficiently cover the long siege of Troy and the Greek army’s transition from “invasion” to “occupation,” as Patroclus says. The Trojan war was quite long, and in a relatively compact book focused on Patroclus and Achilles, there is not much to say about several years during the conflict. (Homer’s Iliad actually begins even later in the war than where this section ends.) Selecting certain significant moments and transitions during these years—Patroclus’s becoming a healer, the rebellion and the resultant transformation of Troy into a home for the Greeks, the portentous visits from Thetis, Briseis kissing Patroclus—allows the author to show the changes that happened over the course of these years without having to relate every event during a time that, for the characters, mostly becomes blurred together. The book does not need to linger over the war years as it does over Achilles and Patroclus’s youth, because not nearly as many significant changes take place during the war as did while they were growing up. No longer establishing her characters or her world, nor yet arriving at the climax of her story, the author must portray these years in some way, but she need not dwell on them.