Chapters 4–6 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 917

Chapter 4

While the other boys flock around Achilles in the dining hall, Patroclus stays away but subtly watches him with envy. Achilles sees him looking, and the two begin exchanging looks regularly, Patroclus trying not to be caught and Achilles catching him. One day, Achilles sits at the table where Patroclus always eats. He shows off for the other boys by juggling figs, then throws one to Patroclus, which Patroclus successfully catches and eats.

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King Peleus calls the boy to his throne room the next day, telling him that he could still be a good man in spite of having committed murder. After hearing about his crime, the other boys begin to avoid him, fearing the curse of the gods might be contagious. Patroclus starts hiding to avoid the military drills they do. In the storeroom that is his refuge, Achilles finds him. When Achilles suggests that Patroclus come up with an excuse for his behavior to avoid punishment, Patroclus asks him to say that he had been with him. Disinclined to lie, Achilles brings Patroclus to his lyre-playing lesson. The two then go to see the king.

Chapter 5

Achilles asks his father’s pardon, telling him that he has taken Patroclus away from the military drills because he wants him to be his official companion, a position of honor in the court. Peleus expresses concern about the other boys’ potential jealousy but yields with some amusement to his son’s request after Achilles points out that he does not need their approval. When Achilles then leaves to drill, he explains to Patroclus that he drills alone because he was prophesied to be the greatest warrior of his generation. That evening at dinner, Achilles announces in front of the other boys that Patroclus will sleep in his room that night. He keeps Patroclus by him as his companion.

At first, Patroclus is reluctant to believe that he is really welcome and keeps expecting to be sent back to the other boys. Yet he grows used to being Achilles’s companion, stops dreaming of the boy he killed, and learns to play and speak joyfully with Achilles. One day, Achilles asks him to watch his training. Patroclus demands that Achilles fight with him, growing angry as the other boy refuses. He eventually charges at him, and Achilles seizes him and holds him tight, showing him that he cannot fight back. Patroclus’s anger ebbs, and he admits that Achilles is unique. There is no point in resenting him, he concludes.

Chapter 6

Continuing to grow closer to Achilles, Patroclus now feels that it is not shameful to “lose to such beauty” when they race or compete in other ways. He simply yields to him in admiration. One day, more than a year after Patroclus first came to Phthia, he tells Achilles about the boy he killed. Why, Achilles asks, did Patroclus not simply say it was in self-defense? That has never occurred to Patroclus. They discuss what Achilles would have done in Patroclus’s place, and Achilles concludes that he does not know, because no one has ever treated him like that.

Patroclus is now allowed to sit at the table of King Peleus, and he and Achilles stay up at night hearing about old feats of war. Reflecting on Peleus’s character, Patroclus observes that he is popular with others in a culture of boasting heroes because he is the rare modest man among them. Though Patroclus often accompanies Achilles to see his father, he never goes with Achilles when the prince visits with his mother, the sea-nymph goddess Thetis. Yet one day, Thetis asks to see him. She tells Patroclus that Achilles will become a god, implying that Patroclus is no fit companion for him. With utter dismissal, she says, “You will be dead soon enough.” Patroclus is mortal, while her son will be an immortal god. Achilles comes to find Patroclus, who asks him whether he wants to be a god. Achilles’s final answer is “Not yet.”

Analysis

This section focuses on the developing friendship between Patroclus and Achilles. Though Patroclus does not understand why Achilles has selected him as a companion, he treasures their time together. His admiration for Achilles is intense, inspired by the other boy’s beauty, charisma, and effortless success in everything he does. Foreshadowing the nature of their relationship later in the book, Patroclus frequently refers to Achilles’s attractiveness and the way it affects his own feelings.

As a stylistic device, similes play a notable role throughout the book, and they are particularly foregrounded in these chapters, as Patroclus struggles to find ways of describing Achilles. The prince’s mischief is “faceted like a gem, catching the light,” the oak leaves he rests his head on become “like a crown.” Similes also serve to represent Achilles’s physical appeal: his hairs are “fine as lyre strings,” “his feet beat the ground like a dancer,” “his beauty shone like a flame.” Something notable about many of these similes is how deeply they are rooted in the ancient world this novel is set in. Not only does the author confine her similes to elements that would have been present in ancient Greece, avoiding anachronism, but she also creates many comparisons that directly refer to elements of that culture. For example, Patroclus compares Thetis’s mouth to “the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular.” By using such similes, Miller grounds the novel in its setting through this prominent stylistic choice.

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Chapters 1–3 Summary and Analysis

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Chapters 7–9 Summary and Analysis

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