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BOOK XVII: The Fight over Patroclos

Summary

Both the Trojans and the Greeks fight for Achilles' armor and for the body of Patroclos. The Greeks want to rescue the armor of Achilles and give Patroclos a proper burial. The Trojans want the armor for themselves; they also want to take the body and destroy it in Troy as a warning to the Greeks.

The fighting is intense. First, Menelaos kills Euphorbos, the man who first struck Patroclos. Then Hector, inspired by Apollo, goes in and seizes the armor of Achilles. Aias and Menelaos approach in anger, causing the Trojans to withdraw until Hector has time to put on his newly acquired armor. Zeus, however, hints that Hector has erred in taking the armor; but he grants the Trojan leader a temporary victory on the battlefield, since he is soon to die. Ajax charges forth and fights fiercely, repulsing the next Trojan attack. The Trojans surge forward again, and a tug of war develops for the prized body.

Back at the ship, Achilles has heard nothing about what is going on. He is unaware that Patroclos tried to attack the citadel, against direct orders; he also knows nothing about the death of his dear friend.

Back on the battlefield, the horses of Achilles stand still, weeping for their lost charioteer. They refuse to move, for they respond only to Achilles or Patroclos. When Hector tries to capture them, however, they run away. From on high, Zeus decides he must temporarily intervene to aid the Greeks. He encourages the horses to respond to Automedon, who drives them towards the Trojans. He then tries unsuccessfully to engage Hector and Aeneas in battle. Athena also appears on the battlefield to give strength to Menelaos. In turn, he kills Podes, a close friend of Hector.


Zeus again helps the Trojans. He enshrouds the battle in a mist, which allows the Trojans to rally. Ajax, aware that Zeus is helping the Trojans, suggests to Menelaos that a runner should be sent to Achilles to inform him of the death of Patroclos and to ask him to join the fight. Antilochos is chosen to take the message.

Menelaos and Ajax decide that Meriones and Menelaos will carry away the body of Patroclos while the two Aiases drive back the Trojans. The plan is victorious, and the Greeks return to their ships.

Notes

There are several noteworthy events in this book. First, the powerful armor of Achilles, which originated with the gods, is seized by Hector. Zeus appears to say that Hector has erred in taking the armor and leaving the body of Patroclos naked. Secondly, Zeus aids both sides. He encourages the horses of Achilles to be directed by Automedon and allows Athena to come and encourage the Greeks. He also allows Apollo to aid the Trojans and enshrouds the battle in a mist to help their cause. Thirdly, the body of Patroclos is saved by the Greeks, who can now give the body a proper burial so his soul can escape.

Achilles is unaware of what has transpired on the battlefield, and a Greek messenger is sent to tell him the sad news. The scene has been set by Zeus to bring Achilles back into the battle to avenge the death of his friend. Because Hector has delivered the deathblow, Achilles will be bent on destroying him. Unfortunately, without his armor, Achilles will have a difficult time. Fortunately, he has not lost his horses; they were rescued, with the aid of Zeus, before the Trojans could seize them as well.

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