Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1369
Achilles watches the battle, feeling a sense of foreboding. He sees the Greeks start to triumph, then observes the fight over a body—he does not know whose—at the base of the wall. He learns who it is when the Greeks bring the body back to their camp. Patroclus, now a spirit but tied to his body, relates how Achilles falls on Patroclus’s body and says his name over and over, holding him tightly. Odysseus tells him that Hector killed Patroclus but that Achilles must rest and eat tonight before he kills Hector. Thetis comes to see Achilles, who rebuffs her when she is cold about Patroclus’s death. When Agamemnon comes to make peace with Achilles, Achilles says he will fight but also wishes Patroclus had let all the Greeks die. Achilles holds Patroclus’s body all night in bed. Thetis returns, bringing Achilles new armor for his fight with Hector.
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In the morning, Achilles charges onto the battlefield, screaming for Hector. He kills many Trojans in the chase. Hector flees by swimming through the river Scamander, whose river god rises. The god, whom Hector has always piously worshipped, will not let Achilles pass to reach Hector. Attacking the god, Achilles begins the first challenging fight of his life. Finally, he tricks the god by pretending to make a mistake, then surprising him and wounding him. The god will not die but must retreat.
Achilles catches up with Hector outside Troy. After denying the Trojan warrior’s request to return his body to his family, he kills him. Instead of treating Hector’s body with honor, he ties it to his chariot and drags it along behind him. Back in the camp, Achilles refuses food and tells his mother that he will not return Hector’s body. In Achilles’s dreams, Patroclus attempts to speak to him, but he wakes up thinking Patroclus is present and then weeps again. The next day, Achilles drags Hector’s body all around the walls of Troy in spite. His mother warns him that Apollo is angry and she cannot protect him. They argue in great anger, Achilles blaming his mother for Patroclus’s death and Thetis expressing disgust at the grieving wreck her son has become. She tells him that she is bringing his son to Troy and of a prophecy that the boy will be necessary to a Greek victory. Thetis’s last words to her son are to tell him that she is pleased Patroclus is dead.
King Priam comes to see Achilles, traveling through great danger, to request the return of his son Hector’s body so that he may bury him. The old man expresses sorrow for the loss of Patroclus. Begging the Greek warrior to take mercy on him, as the two are united in the misery of grief, he succeeds in persuading him. When Patroclus is burned on a funeral pyre the next day, Achilles gathers his ashes—typically the task of a woman in the deceased’s family—and tells the Greeks that when he is dead, they must mingle his ashes with Patroclus’s.
More heroes come to replace Hector and Sarpedon, including the demigod Memnon and the fierce warrior woman Penthesilea. Though he wishes to die, Achilles instinctively protects himself in battle, defeating them both. He also kills the young Trojan prince Troilus, who was intended to be the royal survivor of the war but insisted on going into battle after his brother Hector’s death. Paris, still living, shoots an arrow, guided by Apollo, at Achilles’s back. Achilles, being mortal, dies.
Sea nymphs bring Achilles’s body to his funeral pyre, but few weep at his death, neither Briseis nor his mother nor the Greek kings. His mother refuses to collect his ashes, so servant girls are sent to do so and to fulfill the request to mingle them with Patroclus’s. In council, the Greek kings argue over where to build Achilles’s tomb. They are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Achilles’s twelve-year-old son, Pyrrhus, whom Thetis has raised. The boy insists that Achilles’s monument be marked for him alone, without Patroclus’s name on it. Not having his name on his grave will prevent Patroclus’s spirit from joining Achilles in the underworld.
Pyrrhus takes over the Phthian army, coldly demanding their allegiance. After seeing Briseis, he sends his guards at night to bring her to his tent. She tells him that Achilles loved Patroclus. He accuses her of lying and advances on her; she tries to attack him with a knife. The attack fails due to Briseis’s inexperience, and she flees into the waves. When she would be too distant for a spear thrown by anyone but Achilles or his son to reach her, Pyrrhus throws a spear into her back, killing her.
Pyrrhus indeed helps defeat Troy, and the Greeks pack their camp to go. Patroclus, still a spirit tied to his ashes, begs them to put his name on the tomb, but no one seems to hear him. Before the Greeks leave, Pyrrhus insists on a final sacrifice in his father’s honor. Calchas brings a cow, but Pyrrhus slaughters a Trojan girl he has captured instead.
Patroclus reaches out to Odysseus in his dreams and asks him to help. Waking with a sense of guilt, Odysseus goes to talk to Pyrrhus. Achilles, he says, would not want Patroclus’s memory to be lost, and Patroclus served bravely. Insisting that Patroclus was a disgrace to Achilles, Pyrrhus refuses.
After the Greeks sail, people come to visit Achilles’s grave. Thetis comes daily, and Patroclus tries to attract her attention. He tells her that Achilles should be remembered for more than his deeds of slaughter. Sharing his memories with her, he sparks her own memories, and the two reminisce about Achilles together. Eventually, she asks him why he does not go to Achilles. He explains that he cannot. Thetis takes mercy on him, carving his name on the tomb. In the underworld, Patroclus and Achilles are joyfully reunited.
These chapters focus on how important Patroclus was to Achilles and how the world insists on separating them even in death. Achilles returns to battle out of mad grief for Patroclus, not out of any sense of remorse or care for the Greeks. Compared to the death of his lover, even Agamemnon’s belated submission does not matter to Achilles. The only person he relents toward is Priam, after the old man connects with him as a fellow mourner. Toward everyone else, he feels only rage. And without Patroclus, he no longer wishes to live. As he had predicted, he does not mind that he must die after he kills Hector; he is only relieved. His own death, too, comes as a relief to him. He will be reunited with Patroclus. Yet he is not able to do so at first, because of his own son’s insistence that Achilles’s male lover should be forgotten. Only the pity of Thetis, who has also lost someone she loved in Achilles, allows Patroclus to be free and reunite with his beloved. Even in death, the social scorn against relationships between adult men keeps them apart, until a god takes pity on them.
A key literary conceit in these chapters is that Patroclus continues narrating even after his death, the idea being that as a spirit still tethered to his body, he continues to witness the events around him. Using this device, the author can tell the story of what happens after Patroclus’s death, and even after Hector’s, which is where the Iliad ends.
One moment to note is just before Achilles’s death, when Paris mentions that Achilles is supposed to be “invulnerable. Except for—” and Apollo cuts him off. In the Greek myth, Achilles is supposed to have been invulnerable all over his body except for on his heel, hence the term “Achilles’s heel” for a person’s weak point. The author decides to change this, however, making the point that even though he was a legend, Achilles was also mortal—and mortals are vulnerable.