Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1102
When Achilles and Patroclus turn thirteen, they are expected to sleep with servant girls, as many of the men in the palace do, including boys their age. Yet Achilles claims to be tired when his father offers women to him, and Patroclus thinks to himself that he, too, has no desire to have that experience. One night, Peleus tells Achilles and Patroclus the story of Meleager, a warrior who, out of pride, refused to fight for Calydon, his country. When the country’s enemies heard that Meleager would not fight, they attacked Calydon. His people came to beg him for his help. At this point in the story, Peleus notices that Achilles is not paying attention. He leaves to go to bed, suggesting that Achilles seek out a particular servant girl who is attracted to him. Achilles again says that he is tired. In their room, Patroclus asks Achilles if he is interested in the girl, but the prince does not want to talk about her, playfully tackling Patroclus in his bed instead.
In the night, Patroclus has dreams of Achilles touching him. He tries to stop them but cannot. One summer afternoon, the two boys are sitting on the beach, and Patroclus senses Achilles wanting to be close to him. They kiss for a moment, but Patroclus leaps back, shocked by the intensity of his desire for Achilles. Achilles runs away. As Patroclus is walking back toward the palace, Thetis appears. She tells him that Achilles is leaving and warns him not to follow. The next day, Achilles informs Patroclus that he is going away to be taught by the centaur Chiron, as the great heroes Heracles and Jason were before him. In the morning, Patroclus pretends to be asleep while Achilles packs, so the prince leaves without saying goodbye.
In the morning, the stench of the sea pursues Patroclus everywhere in the palace. He starts to walk toward the mountains in order to get away from the smell but then realizes that if he follows this path, he will find Achilles at Mount Pelion, where Chiron lives. He runs at first, then walks for hours. Just when he is realizing that he will not reach Mount Pelion that night, someone tackles him from the bushes. It is Achilles, who has been waiting for him. Chiron then appears and allows the two boys to ride on his back until they arrive at his home. Accepting Patroclus’s presence, he begins to teach the two boys together. At night, Chiron reveals that he received a message from Thetis telling him to turn Patroclus away if he followed Achilles. After inquiring first of Achilles and then of Patroclus whether Patroclus is a worthy companion for Achilles, he passes his own judgment, deciding that he is. Patroclus offers to leave in order to avoid trouble, but Chiron discourages him from doing so.
The two boys begin a joyful period of learning from Chiron as opportunities arrive to study hunting and gathering, cooking, weapon-making, and medicine. Chiron also tells them stories, notably the story of Heracles, who went mad and murdered his own wife because he could not recognize her. Achilles argues that this was unfair to his wife, but Chiron tells him that the gods are not fair and that it may also be more painful to outlive a loved one than to die before them.
The winter comes, and the two boys marvel at the snow. One morning, Thetis arrives and confronts Patroclus, threatening him and seeming about to attack. However, Chiron comes back just in time and sends Patroclus back to the cave. Achilles goes outside to speak to her. Several times after that, she comes to visit Achilles, and Chiron helps Patroclus avoid her. Patroclus convinces himself that he does not mind. The boys learn winter survival skills such as ice fishing.
In the spring, Achilles asks Chiron to teach them to fight. After watching them drill, Chiron tells Achilles that he has nothing to teach him. When Patroclus asks about his own fighting skills, the centaur says that he will never gain fame for them but that he can become a competent soldier if he wants to. Patroclus decides that he does not. In the spring, Achilles turns fourteen, and gifts arrive from the palace. Some are useful, while others are comically irrelevant to their current lives. The two boys reflect that they do not miss the palace at all.
These chapters focus on the boys’ journey toward adulthood. To show their maturing process from an outside perspective, the author introduces the topic of sexuality and the expectation that the boys will have sex with the young women who live in the palace. Setting up this social convention also allows Miller to show how Achilles and Patroclus defy it. As narrator, Patroclus reveals that he first dreams and then daydreams of sexual contact with Achilles. Both the reader and Patroclus are less sure about how Achilles feels, and the kiss between the boys brings disaster—not from Achilles, but from the outside, in the form of his angry mother. These events initiate the other form of maturing that takes place in this section. The boys begin an education that will allow them to become self-sufficient, as adult men are expected to be in their society.
Foreshadowing plays an important role in this section. By having Peleus tell his son the story of Meleager, the author employs the classic literary device of using a story-within-a-story to illuminate something about the events in the outer story—that is, the actual world of the book. Like Meleager, Achilles will refuse to fight for his country, with disastrous results. His people will beg him to help, as Meleager’s did. In a particularly clever choice, the author has Peleus cut off the story of Meleager at that point. Achilles does not know what happened to Meleager and therefore cannot take it as a warning, especially because he was not paying attention to the story anyway. So, the reader learns something from the story of Meleager, but Achilles—whose story is already told, even if not in this novel—cannot, because his future is already set. Chiron also tells a story-within-a-story that the author uses for foreshadowing, that of the mad Heracles murdering his wife. This is a more subtle touch, however, as this tale does not directly mirror Achilles’s future. It is Chiron’s side comment that predicts Achilles’s future pain: “Perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
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