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BOOK XVI: The Death of Patroclos

Summary

Angered by the torching of the Greek ships by the Trojans, Achilles listens to the arguments of Patroclos; but he again states that the shame inflicted upon him by Agamemnon will not allow him to enter the conflict until the Trojans reach his own ships. He does agree, however, to loan Patroclos his armor to wear into battle in order to inspire the Greeks in battle; he will also allow his troops to enter the fight. Before Patroclos departs, Achilles warns him he is not to pursue the Trojans to the citadel or slay Hector, for Achilles wants that honor for himself.

Back at the ships, the battle rages on. Aias is forced to give way, and more Greek vessels are set afire by the Trojans. When Achilles sees the burning ships, he exhorts his men to fight bravely under the leadership of Patroclos and Automedon. He also offers a prayer to almighty Zeus, asking the god to allow Patroclos to triumph and return unharmed. The King of the Immortals will grant the first request, but he cannot honor the second, for Patroclos must be killed by Hector to fulfill Zeus' divine plan.

When Achilles' reinforcements arrive, the Greeks have a chance to put out the fires on the ships. In the meantime, Patroclos succeeds in pinning the Trojans between the ships and the wall. He then meets Sarpedon, the son of Zeus and the first Trojan to assault the wall. As Zeus watches from above, he wonders if he should save his son or let Destiny take its course. Hera says that Zeus should not tamper with the fate of men, lest all the other gods demand the same prerogative. As a result, the King of the Gods stands back and lets Sarpedon die at the hands of Patroclos.

As Sarpedon lays dying, he asks Glaucus to prevent the Greeks from stripping the armor from his body. Glaucus, who is wounded himself, prays to Apollo to heal him so that he can stir the Trojans to defend the body and armor of Sarpedon. When Apollo grants his request, Glaucus appeals to Hector for help. The Trojan leader rallies his troops to a savage and successful attack against the Greeks. Zeus, however, interferes and influences the Trojans to withdraw from the battle and return to their citadel. When Patroclos sees them heading back to Troy, he is consumed with a desire for battle, ignores the warning of Achilles, and follows them.


Rushing upon the citadel, Patroclos is stopped by Apollo, who tells the young warrior that he cannot take the city. Apollo then goes to Hector and instills in him a desire to fight. Hector emerges and watches as Patroclos slays his charioteer. Apollo then enters the fight and knocks the armor of Achilles from Patroclos' body, making him vulnerable. Euphorbos first hits Patroclos between the shoulders then Hector delivers the final blow with a stab to his belly. Standing over his fallen foe, Hector mockingly tells the dying Patroclos that the armor of Achilles has not protected him and that he will never again assail Troy's walls. Before he dies, Patroclos tosses a verbal barb at Hector. He claims that his death was really brought about by Destiny and Euphorbos, not by Hector. He also adds that it did not take much of a warrior to slay a man who had been stripped of his armor by a god. His final words foretell of Hector's death as he warns the Trojan leader that Destiny will soon fall upon him.

Notes

Book XVI presents the pivotal turn in the action of the poem with the deaths of Sarpedon and Patroclos. Prior to Book XIV, most of the events presented, like the duel between Menelaos and Paris and the temporary wounding of Hector, are relatively inconsequential to the main plot. Only in the last few Books does the action truly march forward as the fighting becomes intense and Zeus springs to action.

In this key book, Homer turns his attention once again to Achilles. Although he is still too proud and stubborn to enter the battle, he is clearly shaken by the losses of the Greeks and the sight of their ships ablaze. As a result, he volunteers his troops to enter the fight and exhorts them to battle courageously. More importantly, he gives his armor to Patroclos to wear into battle in order to motivate the troops and protect himself. Armor was always very important to the Greek hero, for in it supposedly rested the strength, courage, pride, and ability of the warrior himself. Therefore, when Achilles bestows his armor to Patroclos, he is really granting his own heroic characteristics to his friend; and Apollo, knowing the power of Achilles' armor, knocks it from the body of Patroclos, leaving him bereft of strength and totally vulnerable. In a like manner, when Hector later comes into possession of Achilles' armor, he will, in fact, be taking away the identity of the hero as embodied in that armor. And the dying Sarpedon begs Glaucus not to allow anyone to strip his body of his armor, for he does not want the essence of his being to be violated by a Greek.

Achilles fully understands the seriousness of the Greek situation. In granting Patroclos his armor and sending his troops into the fight, Achilles is hoping to change the course of the war to the favor of the Greeks. He prays to Zeus that Patroclos will triumph and return safely to him; but Achilles warns Patroclos not to take the citadel of Troy or kill Hector, for the Greek hero wants the honor of doing these things himself.

Although Zeus hears Achilles' prayer for Patroclos, he cannot honor it. The King of the Immortals has plans of using Patroclos' death to bring Achilles back into the battle. But Zeus does not always try to control things. When Patroclos is about to murder Zeus' son, the god wonders whether he should interfere with Destiny, a powerful force that hovers over the affairs of both mortals and immortals. Hera advises him to allow Fate to take its course, for if he meddles with Destiny, the other goes will try to claim the same privilege. Zeus, therefore, does not divert Destiny from its course and watches as his son dies.The death of Patroclos is important for reasons. In his death, Zeus gains revenge for Sarpedon's death. It also serves as a punishment to the man himself, for the rash and eager Patroclos disobeyed Achilles' warning not to try and take the citadel; if he had obeyed his master's words, his life would probably have been spared. Most importantly, however, Patroclos' death is part of Zeus' master plan; it will alter the mindset of Achilles and bring the hero back into the battle to avenge his friend.The narrative skill of the poet is apparent in his gradual build-up to the pivotal events of Book XVI. Although there has been much bloodshed in the poem prior to this point, the death of Sarpedon is the first death of real significance in the Iliad. Zeus is saddened to see his son dying, but he decides that he must not interfere with Fate. Sarpedon's death at the hands of Patroclos, after all, will set the final outcome of the poem into motion. Hector feels he must avenge the death and kills Patroclos. In turn, Achilles will return to the war to gain revenge on Patroclos' murderer, just as Zeus has planned.

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